Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, April 29, 2011

Square peg (i) -Membership?

This is the first of a few faith/ministry posts that have been buzzing around my head. - I read a sentence this morning which I have been unable to find again, but it went something like this; "We write not only to tell others what we are thinking, but to tell ourselves what we are thinking."... this is true of my blog posts. Life is a journey and blogging helps me to sort out where I am on that journey.
Membership lists..
Last Sunday a couple who years ago used to be active in our church, were visiting our worship service. They now live in a different part of the country but she asked if they were still on our church members' list as "isolated Members". It seemed important to them that they be on such a list. In our church these days we keep a fairly fluid membership list, but we will add them if being listed is important to them. I tend to think less and less of such clearly defined lists.
Who is "in"? Confession of "faith"?
These days around our congregation people seem to just be absorbed into the membership. If they seem interested and hang around long enough they are "in". We purposely call ourselves the "Church of Christ Community" because we see that there are many people we have contact with who we would recognise as part of "us", even though they may not be traditional, "Church-going-saints". I would still encourage people to be baptised if they are interested, but don't see this as a condition of "membership". This, of course, is not how it has traditionally been and perhaps many in our congregation, certainly many in our denomination would brand me a "heretic" for this approach. I got to thinking about this the other day while I was driving between fire stations. (I had been having a "lively discussion" with an atheist) We used to traditionally ask for a "confession of faith". We would ask prospective members the question, "Do you believe in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God, and do you accept him as your Lord and Saviour?" If the person said "yes" he/she was "in". (after baptism of course) I got to wondering if I was to run a church along my lines these days, and I felt that some sort of public confession was appropriate, what would be the confession I would ask for? Here goes; "Do you want to follow Jesus in your living, and do you accept him as your mentor and guide for life?" There is a whole lot of theological thinking behind this which I will not go into. I mention two things that lead me in this direction.
(1) There are a whole lot of people who would give mental assent to metaphysical/mythological statements about Jesus (Christ, Son of God, Lord, Saviour) who appear to think that this "belief" is all that is involved in being a Christian. In my view, the experiences these words point to are discovered when we first "follow" Jesus, and today we may well use different words. Faith is very different from mental assent.
(2) The more I read scripture and about the style and type of literature the Bible is, the more I struggle to take on board the traditional understandings of such words as "Son of God, Christ, Lord, and Saviour" (e.g. Theologian and thinker Karen Armstrong seems to point out that the use of the terms "son of God" and "Christ" in the gospels does not necessarily imply that the writers or Jesus himself thought of Jesus as divine.) At the same time in my journey, I have never felt more that Jesus and his way are relevant for my life and needed in the life of our community and world.

So the question (if I thought one was needed) I would ask prospective members of "my" church would be, "Do you want to follow Jesus in your living, and do you accept him as your mentor and guide for life?"

But that makes me a "square peg in a round hole" as a minister in a Church.
Photo: Life is a journey, blogging helps me sort out where I am on the path.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Silverpeaks call answered.

The call...
I enjoy a tramp in the hills. Whether it was wandering around my uncle's sheep run as a child, or growing up in the midst of bush and hills in Dunedin or being raised with stories of Ed Hillary, I long to get out in the hills. Unfortunately, apart from my Mount Cargill walks and the odd one up Flagstaff (back of Dunedin) I seldom get to do it. After the Annual General Meeting of the Church Sunday week ago, Jean and I decided to go somewhere for lunch to unwind. We went to the Orokonui Nature reserve cafe. As you sit in this cafe you have a great view of the surrounding country side. Silhouetted on the horizon are the mountains of the area known as "The Silverpeaks". I think they are called this because they are covered in Manuka bushes which have a little white flower at certain times of the year, and these give the hills silver look about them in the sun. As I sat having my toasted panini the hills beckoned me. I looked at them and just ached to go for a walk. I decided to take the Tuesday after Easter off (a day in leu?) and go for a walk. I was a little bit nervous. I had some guys saying to me "You can't go walking around the Silverpeaks at this time of the year, it is too dangerous, the weather changes quickly up there you know!" Another said, "We'll be out looking for you! People die up there you know!" Yes I know, I have heard the stories about lost lives in those mountains. I watched the weather and decided that today was settled enough to go. I walked a familiar track in the Silverpeaks. I don't know how to explain it, when I get out in those hills alone I am in heaven. Is it just that you are away from civilisation? You are alone with the birds, the bush, the weather and the track. You are challenged by hills, by mud and by your own endurance or fitness. It is, for me a real treat. I walked for two and a half hours and stopped amongst the rocks of a high peak. I ate my lunch and walked out again. (A strange thing to do???) As I came out I stopped to talk to a group of students who were tramping into Jubilee Hut for the night. They wanted to know if somebody had got there before them. I reported that I had seen a group head that way quite a distance in front of me, then I explained that I just went in, had lunch and walked out again. One student grinned, "It is a great place to escape isn't it?" He understood! I share some pictures. I love these hills!
Photos: (They are back to front)
* Bottom one... a view of the hills early on the track. For 360 degrees there are views like this.
* Part of the bush. It changes as you gain height. You get into tussock country.
* Looking back on a high point on the track on my way in. This is called "Pulpit Rock."
* Top Photo: Where I stopped and had my lunch.

Monday, April 25, 2011


Dawn Service...
I decided that I would get up early and get into town to attend the ANZAC day dawn service in the Queens Gardens this morning. For those unfamiliar with New Zealand customs, ANZAC day is the day each year that we remember our war dead. The cities and towns have special services at dawn where people gather around a war memorial, wreaths are laid, readings and prayers said and there is often a guest speaker, trumpeter and a gun salute. I have great difficulty with the way the christian faith is sometimes used and abused in the service of war, and often I get this uncomfortable feeling around ANZAC day. I took part in an ANZAC day service in Palmerston North when I was president of the minister's association there. I recall I read the reading from Isaiah about turning swords into plow shears, looking forward to peace and harmony. (shalom) The guest speaker stood up and gave quite a war mongering speech, calling on the government to commit more money to the armed services and NZ to do more overseas with its "allies" etc. I felt quite sick about it all and nearly walked off the stage. So I went along today wondering what it would be like. These ceremonies are very popular, it has become a place where people express their pride in being a New Zealander. We drove into town and walked with many others to the war memorial. I recognised that most there were probably not church goers, many would not be believers. I saw some of my Ambulance staff there and fire crews. So I guess I was looking at the service from their point of view.
The choir sang. Now some of my church members are in the choir. It is called the RSA choir, but few in the choir now are "returned servicemen". They sang the hymn, "I hear thy welcome voice". It has some good words and an overall good "feel" to it. But... it is OLD! It has words like "wash me, cleanse me, in the blood", "cleansing in thy precious blood" and "all hail atoning blood!" I stood there thinking, "What on earth would my firemen and ambulance guys and all these secular people think of this sort of language?" I cringed. I was disappointed. There are some modern New Zealand hymns that would lend themselves better to this more secular scene. Why regurgitate the old stuff? The ex-army chaplain who led the religious bits through was quite good. He could have been worse, he generally used good non-jargon/cliche language that secular people could understand. He did, however, read from a church prayer book when taking prayers and I thought that this was a shame. The prayers assumed christian faith and discipleship. When I take prayers at a wedding or funeral I often reword them so that non-Christians could identify with them. I think that at such a civic ceremony as this it would have been helpful for him to have re-thought the prayer language to make them accessible for non-Christians, non-believers and secular thinkers. An example came in one of the final prayers when we prayed for "the Church" really before we prayed for our communities, our leaders and the queen. Most in the audience could not give two hoots for "the Church". The Apostle Paul said he had become "all things to all people that he might win some". I think we in the church need to do some thinking about how we adapt to speak in ways that make sense to the people in the street, especially when we are involved in civic ceremonies. But I also suspect many in the street are just as happy for the Church to stay with the traditional jargon so that they can peacefully ignore it.
Barton's pigs...
My exercise for today was to bike into town and back. Today's ride was about 23k in total. I took my camera and took two photos. One of the photos is of a neon sign with a line of pigs. This is all that remains of the "Barton's Butcher Shop" moving pigs. The pigs have the appearance of running along the length of the sign. When I was a child the pigs ran along the top of a corner butcher shop on the corner of Stafford Street and Princess Street. The line of pigs went along the top of the shop and around the corner. My dad would take us there if we were up at night to see this "amazing" moving neon sign. To us as children it was a real treat. If we had all gone to evening Church often we would ask dad to take us to see the pigs before we went home. Or if in the winter we had been out for a Sunday drive and it was getting dark as we came home, a chorus of voices would say, "Take us to the pigs dad, pleeease!" In normal circumstances Dad was often not influenced by such begging and whining. He was a "let your yays be yay and your no's be no" type person. He would generally get blunt and angry with whining kids. You asked once, got your answer, and that was it! We learned quickly that if we did not accept that first answer, further pleading would only ensure a "no" answer... on principle... you did not beg, you did not whine! But he always did give in for the pigs. He would drive (in our vibrating Bradford plumbers van) into town and park so that we all could get a good view of the pigs on Barton's Butcher Shop running around the corner. Then with five smiling kids and sometimes with dad singing "Good night Irene" (It was bed time) we would drive happily home.
* A short line of the original "Barton's Pigs". Now they are preserved attached to a factory that makes shop signs and fittings. Of course these days they are much more elaborate than this old sign.
* The sun was setting over Dunedin. It was time for me to turn my bike toward home.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Easter weekend stuff.

Reaching out...
On Good Friday I rode my bike into town. On the bike track where it goes over a railway track I came across a couple who work in one of my chaplaincies. Because of his job I don't get to see him often. While I was in Christchurch the other week his adult son was killed in a road accident, nobody told me about it and I had just caught up on it this week. Having bumped into him by surprise when my mind was not on "being a good chaplain" I stopped, stammered and talked with them. I asked how he "was doing?" Here was a tough man. In his work he has to be tough. But as I looked at him and talked to him I could tell he was hurting like hell inside and he said as much. I recalled one of my firemen who lost his son saying of the experience, "I would not wish it on my worst enemy." It hurts when you love. I know a young couple who tried for a baby. They became pregnant, but early in the pregnancy lost the baby. They were really sad and I was sad for them. My niece had a baby girl on Thursday. The little tot is now in Auckland for heart surgery. It must be very hard on my niece and her husband and I am praying that she will be fine. I got to thinking as I rode my bike home that as soon as we extend ourselves to love we open ourselves to being hurt. We feel pain if we lose that person. We feel their pain if they are hurting. ... Why would you be a parent? Why would you love if you open up to that pain? It is still better to live and love. ... but just tonight I feel the pain of people who are hurting because they love. .. I know something of that feeling.
Bird song...
On Friday I stacked the firewood for winter in cupboards we have to keep it dry. I spent time in our backyard. It was astounding. The birdsong was all around me coming from the trees surrounding me. You could see the birds, they were little black dots in the trees, but for little dots they made a powerful noise. I am so fortunate to live where I live! On Saturday I moved rubbish and did chores, and was again in the backyard and back paddock. Two little Fantails came close and watched me dig a hole at one stage. I saw Tui in the trees with their white trim under their "chin". Of course there were a pair of Wood-pigeons flying from tree to tree. Somehow all these birds singing throughout the day help make life feel good.
Exercise report...
I am still struggling with an old age knee. My doctor says they won't do anything about it because I am not crippled enough, so I have to "manage it". Unfortunately also, since daylight saving ceased, I have not exercised during the weekdays, apart from walking to chaplaincies and around chaplaincies. Every weekend I try to exercise every day. I still hope to do a half-marathon in September, but will have to do more. I had a nice run last weekend, but my knee hurt after it. Over Easter I hope to exercise every day. On Friday I enjoyed a bike ride. Yesterday I enjoyed a walk up the mountain, including a bit of a loop up top ... about one and a half hours. Tonight I ran 9k on a beautiful calm night for running. ... tomorrow I hope to ride and on Tuesday I would like to go for a tramp. .... wait and see. When I was walking up the hill I moved aside to let a man go past. I tried to keep up with him, but I puffed and panted behind him as he strode away from me. I got to thinking, "I used to be the one people had to move aside to let past!? What's happening to me?" I will get more fit but the reality is that I am getting older and probably I have to "accept with grace" the passing of the years, and the puffing and panting. Near the top, on a stairway that had me puffing, I met a couple coming down. They had a pit bull type dog in front of them and I am sure he was looking at my calves and drooling. I put my walking stick between him and my leg... in case. The most annoying thing about them was that they were friendly. She said "Hello, how are you doing?" and he said, "You haven't got far to go now, mate!" But both comments were made in the patronising tone of voice young people reserve for old people. The type of voice that says... "You are doing OK... FOR YOUR AGE!" I bit my lip. I wanted to yell at them, "I know I am not far from the top! I have been coming up this mountain since you were in nappies! And I am doing well, thank you very much!" But I just said, "Yeah right!" and walked on feeling ten years older. They WERE just being friendly.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Midweek stuff

At our Space2B at church today we had a couple come in who are regular attenders at our Friday night drop-in centre. We chatted about all sorts of things then the man leaned over and said, "Do you remember .........., he used to come to drop-in centre." With a little bit of assistance by way of a description I vaguely remembered the individual in question. "Well we got a phone call from him and he is in prison charged with murder!" ...... It turns out that he is one of the three guys arrested for the bludgeoning death at Warrington Beach that I mentioned in my last post. I listened to their shock and dilemma because this man had been quite close to them as a family. I struggled with my own feelings. I felt guilty that we had a chance to influence this guy, and maybe prevent a death, but did not do a good enough job! I wondered if there was something we ought to be doing for him now, even though it was a while ago that he attended and he did not share much when he was there. I felt shocked that I knew someone who, it is alleged, could do this and that they had been in our drop-in. Are we safe in what we are doing? I had a whole mixture of feelings about it. Was what we were doing worthwhile? Of course I had dealt with people who had murdered before. One man I spent a lot of time with was a double murderer! Sometimes I pushed his buttons and he would get quite intimidating with me, but fortunately I always managed the situation. But this sent me thinking, questioning and pondering. It was the same sort of questioning that I found myself doing when one of our guys took his own life.

My conclusion hit me sometime later. We may have failed this guy, and not been able to show him different ways of living. But there are two things to remember....
  • At least we were in touch with a guys in this sort of circle. Many churches would have absolutely nothing to do with such people. We may not have been able to bring changes we would want, but at least we were not "fiddling while Rome burned". ... we were in the thick of the battle amongst people who needed our love in a big way.
  • Secondly, we really do not know the full extent of the positive influence we have. I become all too aware of where we have been unable to help. One suicides. One murders. (It is alleged) They are in-your-face, up there and obvious. But perhaps someone never committed suicide because I played endless games of pool with them? Perhaps because we served them coffee and food and a listening ear, someone else had the hope and strength to carry on? Perhaps because they knew they were going to a place of welcome on Friday night they could cope with life better? Perhaps because someone else saw a different way of life in what we had to offer they walked away from a potential murder scene? Just being open as a place of safety with no alcohol could have meant that a number of people were not in more dangerous settings. Maybe we have saved a number of deaths we would never know about? The thing is we just don't know. If they fail we hear about it. But if they manage to plod on not causing harm to themselves or others, we have no way of knowing that we have contributed to that "normality". All we can do is keep loving as best we can.
Talking, listening is my job.
It has been a frustrating week in some ways. I feel like I have not got much done. Virtually all Tuesday afternoon, from 12 - 6 p.m. was spent talking and listening in the chaplaincy situation. At the ambulance station and around the fire stations I listened and talked. Much of it was just every day conversation, but peppered with some bits of significant reflection and "in-depth stuff". Today I began the day thinking I was going to get heaps done. But on Wednesdays our Space2B is open from 11a.m. to 3 p.m. I spent all of that time talking, listening relating. Even after we shut up shop some talk continued. I raced back to my office thinking I have wasted a big part of my day! Space2B was just about full of people. There were Chinese, a Hungarian, Indian, one from the UK, an Australian, visitors from Singapore, Kiwis and others. There was good chatter about life. Groups dotted around the area in circles chatting away madly. At about 3:30 p.m. I went back to my office and by 6:30 we had a meal with a few people in Space2B. It was a small group because people were away or otherwise engaged. A Hungarian, two Indians and three kiwis. We sat and chatted about all sorts of things, things we had been doing, cultural differences, food and just sharing "life" until nearly 9 p.m.

As I drove home I was thinking of all the "work" I did not get done in the first two days of the week. But then the penny dropped... I had been working! My job is relating. If I am sharing the love of God, I need to be in relationship, talking and listening. All the chatter in Space2B was holy stuff going on. People were loving and being loved. Our hours of sitting around the meal table was sacred sharing, people meeting people! As I drove I became a bit like God in the story of creation looking on his day's work; "God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." ... well I looked back on what I thought as "wasted time" talking with people, and I saw it and I began to think " no .... indeed, it was very good!" It is the "stuff of life!" I think God would look on what was happening and smile! (That's very anthropomorphic, but you get my point.)

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Palm Sunday/AGM Sunday over.

Church AGM
I guess every Church has them, a church Annual General Meeting. You have to put together reports, budgets and then have the meeting. It is held after our church service and is the opportunity for anyone who wants to gripe. I am fortunate, mostly other people take responsibility for this meeting. I sit in the back row waiting to see if anyone has some real issues. I always get a bit strung out because I know there are many things around the church that I should be doing better. Anyway nobody griped about anything much. It was a reasonably positive meeting. I am glad it is over for another year.
Palm Sunday
I led the service today on the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. I recently read a good book by John Dominic Crossan. ("Jesus a Revolutionary Biography") While I may not agree with everything he says it helps me to read the gospels much more aware of the social setting in which Jesus lived and all the dynamics involved. This enables me to realise even more deeply the very radical nature of this teacher from Nazareth. It enables his actions and teaching to come even more alive and have a real edge to them. In the last paragraphs of his book Crossan shows how the picture of the historical Jesus changed into a very different "confessional Christ" in 300 years to the emperor Constantine. He raises the question of how the changes were accepted so readily and questioned so lightly. He asks the question: "Is it time now, or is it already too late, to conduct, religiously and theologically, ethically and morally, some basic cost accounting with Constantine?" The older I get the more concerned I get that the Church has so twisted the way of Jesus. I suspect it is easier if you are an academic like Crossan to write the books that disturb. It is very hard for those of us who are pastors within the Church and are called to try to un-twist the distortions and find genuine ways of expressing the way of Jesus in today's world. I tried a little with today's Palm Sunday service.
A murder at Warrington?
A few kilometres north of Dunedin there is a beach called Warrington. Its a nice place on a warm day for family picnics and relaxing. The body of a young man was found there this week, it appears as if he was bludgeoned to death. Three young men have been arrested for his death. I sometimes get pretty angry, but I don't know how you can bludgeon a young man to death? A wasted life... four wasted lives! How can life be treated so lightly? On Friday night at our drop-in centre I went outside (in the rain... grumble, grumble) to help a guy fix his motorbike. While we were talking I learned that one of our past Drop-in members had cancer and the prognosis is bad... the type that smoking causes. He has moved out of town now, but as long as I have known him he has been a heavy smoker. He has known that this causes trouble, he has been advised to give up frequently, but he has done nothing about it. Why does he take life so lightly? Life is precious, cherish it! I see so many people these days just existing. Maybe we don't go around killing people like they did in the wild west, or ancient civilisations where life seemed so cheap. But I see so many people living their own lives as if life is cheap. They have no purpose. They are not open to the beauty in life. They destroy precious relationships in life. They do not do constructive, positive and growth inducing things with their life. They do things that will harm the quality of their living. They basically throw their life, and sometimes the lives of their children, into the rubbish tin. It is extremely sad... we so often treat life so cheaply. Life really is a beautiful gift with so much potential for joy, satisfaction and fulfillment. .... treat it as precious...taste its flavours.... use it wisely and well.. give yourself to high causes, grow and live to the full..... God knows, it will soon be over.
Appreciated appreciations.
I have had three warm fuzzies this week which I appreciated.
  • I record radio church services with my daughter from time to time. We are on a roster with other ministers. They are half-hour slots on the local community radio station, with music to fit. You do them and do not know who, if anyone, is listening. I went to a ministers' meeting on Tuesday. One of the ministers met me and said, "Congratulations on the best radio Church ever!" My last one was aired last Sunday and he had listened in. It was nice to know it was appreciated.
  • I went to St John Ambulance on Friday and sat down and talked to a group of paramedics. While we were talking the team leader came in with a book in his hand. He handed it to me and said, "This is from Red Shift, just to let you know we appreciate what you do." It was a book of vouchers with a discount card. It enables you to get discounts at various places. If used properly, it will be worth a mint to Jean and I. I think they paid $50 for it. I was quite touched. I go over there and I talk. I seldom get involved in heavy counselling stuff, but mostly just listen to what is going on for them. But they obviously appreciate my presence there.
  • Today after the annual meeting I was talking to a guy who joined the church in the last few years. We were chatting and got interrupted by a 90 year old guy who has been in the church for a lifetime. I have so much love and respect for this 90 year old. He is a great guy. He apologised for the interruption but he said, "I just want to say, thank you so much for another successful year of ministry. It is very much appreciated." I was a bit flustered and said, "Oh.. I hope it is alright?" He came back... "It is more than alright, it is excellent." My other friend then interrupted and said, "That's right! Its great! It's a real joy to come to church each Sunday. Isn't it?" (He had been an earthy hard shot truck driver! .. I love him too, he is so upfront and natural.) Again I appreciated the appreciation.
- Warrington Beach area from the top of my mountain. Such a nice place tainted now with a murder.
- I went up Mount Cargill today. We have had a lot of rain in the last two days so walking up the tracks was a bit like walking up small creeks. A cold wind was blowing but it was still nice in the bush. I disturbed a Wood Pigeon. It flew to a branch about barely two metres from me. I "talked" to it. We stayed looking at each other for a minute or so before I moved on. He seemed to enjoy this weird human burbling away at him. A little special precious moment in life, to make contact with wild life.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Tools are an investment.

As a boy I loved doing the odd DIY job. I built a birdcage. (My parents had to buy me a budgie after that.) I had a fret saw and used to make letter racks, toy cars and guns. (that fired my dad's prized pop rivets) So as a boy I started gathering tools. When I started as an apprentice plumber we were allowed to purchase some tools at the firm's shop and they were paid for by deductions from our wages. I still have some of them. I have been buying tools, or receiving people's old tools ever since. I have always said that tools are an investment. I have a workshop full of all manner of tools. Tools for fixing the car; tools for doing electrical repairs; tools for plumbing, for farming, for gardening and also heaps of carpentry tools. We purchased a new fridge. Our fridge is built into the wall of the kitchen, the back of it protrudes into an entrance way by our backdoor. The new fridge was taller and narrower than the old one so I had to reshape the hole in the wall today. First I had to pull out a cupboard I built years ago. Then I had to move an electrical plug. Then I had to pull out old frame work, cut the new hole and re-frame the new space. Then of course I needed to finish it off so it looked presentable, replace the cupboard and tidy up. As I worked I was so pleased I had a great supply of tools. When I needed to cut a bolt, I had the disk grinder. I had a jig saw, a skill saw, chisels, hacksaw, nail punches, pinch bars, tenant saw, and drills. (I needed a mitre box... mine was on loan, so I had to do without it!) It was so good to be able to just go out to my workshop, messy though it is, and find the right tool for the job. I had fun, tools are an investment.
Hoarding is OK...
I am a bit of a hoarder. My ever patient running friend sometimes gets exasperated when I stop and pick up screws, bolts, washers and nails. I gather old "stuff", electrical stuff, old rusty nails people would throw out and screws out of old furniture or appliances. I try to keep them in containers so that I roughly know where they are. I keep bits of wood others would chuck, and pieces of steel, you name it, I hoard it. (I am not as bad as some, mine is usually good stuff.) Now it often just sits there. A man looked at my workshop recently and asked, "Do you know what all you've got?" Well when it comes to doing a job like I was doing today, I smile with satisfaction. I have nails, screws, hardware and timber all on hand. There is a smug feeling of satisfaction in not having to buy new stuff all the time. I needed a new power outlet. I went to my old cardboard wine cask that is marked, "Electrical stuff" and there was one that came from "somewhere"! I needed hardboard, and some packing. A quick rummage through my supplies and behold there they were! Some old 4x2's were down in a garden shed. etc. etc. My kids might bless me when they have to clean up my estate when I die though! I have been slowly depleting supplies, figuring at my stage of life it is not much use adding too much more to my stock. I love recycling other people's cast offs. I helped an elderly gentleman clean out his garage once. He was moving to another town and a small housing unit. There was a bit of plywood there. As I moved it he asked me if I wanted it. "Oh yes" I replied, "I might find a use for it one day." He grinned and said, "That's exactly what I said about it 50 years ago!". Hoarding is sometimes OK.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Week's end...

This last week has been very busy. When I started work on Tuesday I looked at my diary and thought that I didn't have a show of fitting everything in. Then I checked emails and one more thing (A radio service) was thrust upon me. But I did it. I must admit that not everything was done to the standard I would want, but it was not bad.
Doctors visit...
While I was away my wife had made an appointment with the doctor for me. I like my current doctor, he has a nice way about him. I first met him when my doctor was away and I needed to see a doctor, so they sent me to him. My old doctor seemed to spend most of the time looking at his computer screen. This guy engages with you. I like it too that when he looks at his screen he often turns it and shares the information with me. It is funny, I decided to change doctors, but when I sit in the waiting room of the medical centre and see my old doctor I get to feel so so guilty. I try to hide behind the magazine I am reading..... With this week's appointment I had three issues. I have a knee that plays up and he had sent me for an x-ray. I have a little dark patch on my forehead that gets sore in the sun. I need to keep my blood pressure monitored and I need a prescription every three months. My knee: He showed me the response from the x-ray clinic. It has "mild" degeneration etc etc. "Old age" he summed it up. I asked if anything could be done, and essentially nothing at this stage, I am not crippled enough yet. Great! He told me I could run on my knee, "but don't push yourself!" .... yeah that's what I am doing, hardly any running lately, not enough time and so cold and wet in this last week. The dark patch: Yes the spot on my head looks like a skin cancer. (That "C" word - eek!) He talked about options and we decided that some ointment which will eventually remove it will be the way to go. Then he took my blood pressure. I sat there expecting it to be the highest. Last time it was quite high and he wondered about a higher dose of pills. But he was delighted! It was the lowest it has been in years! He said jokingly, "And I tried my best to raise it with your first two issues!". I don't know why my blood pressure was so low, but I am pleased, I hated the prospect of more pills. Perhaps I am not as stressed these days.
The country is stuffed?
I was talking to a nephew and his wife who now live in Australia. They were visiting Dunedin this weekend. Their comment was, "It sounds like even before the big earthquake the country was had it. Now it's well and truly stuffed." They talked about how they had been talking to people who found it hard to get ahead financially here etc. It was funny how I reacted. Not out loud of course (I do have some manners) but under my breath I was saying, "Go back to Aussie you traitors!" I would want to say that it is a bit superficial to be in a country a few days and start pontificating about it. (Dare I say it; It is a very Australian thing to do!) It probably is true that people are better off financially in Australia. But as a Kiwi I did not like my country being put down. I got to thinking, how do you measure a country anyway? I lived in Australia for four years a long time ago. Back then, while I enjoyed my stay in Aussie, I preferred, and chose to come back to live, raise my family and serve in New Zealand. New Zealand has changed for the worse since those reasonably blissful early 70's days, but I still like New Zealand. I like New Zealand's ethos. It has a strong egalitarian sense to it... though diminished somewhat from what it used to be. It has some very strong values. It has racial issues, but it has from early days been aware of these and tries to deal to them. I am proud of the Treaty of Waitangi with all its faults, it was an advanced attempt toward equality. I like the attempts made to continue to have it as a living and relevant document for on-going partnership with Maori. New Zealand has made some strong stands internationally. It refused to get sucked into the Iraq war. It has stood out against the proliferation of nuclear weapons. It has argued against whaling and is becoming more and more aware of sustainability issues. It still has an unarmed police force. It is still a relatively safe place to live. I enjoy the open spaces, the scenery and the smallness of its cities. I have close friends who are Australians, so I would not want to run down their country, but for me New Zealand is OK. I am here to try to make it better.
I love too much.
I look at people and ache for them! When I was in Christchurch last week I visited a lot of sad homes. They were in sad circumstances even before the earthquake. I came away feeling sad. I see John, a guy who visits our drop-in. He is strung out, paranoid and quite hard to take. I ache for him. I look at many in our drop-in centre and I ache for them as if they were my own kids. When I come away from my chaplaincies I ache for some of the people I talk with. Their values are making their lives less happy. I watch the news on TV or the various shows which show teenagers getting into trouble with the police and I feel sad. I could go on, but you get the picture, I feel other people's pain. My frustration is that I can do little about it. I believe the way of Jesus can help them, but I struggle to communicate it. I wish I had the skill to properly guide people, or the time to befriend people but I can't. I wish I was more talented, able and more confident. Or I wish I had won the $34 million in Lotto this weekend. A man in one of my chaplaincies thinks I am a "left-wing do-gooder who helps those losers". I don't think I am as naive as he thinks I am. When you are involved with people reality hits you time and again. But I sometimes wish I could be a little more callous. I feel for people but don't have the ability, confidence, the influence or the financial clout to make to a real difference... its all a bit frustrating.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Passed your used-by-date

Not listened too...
Let me tell you about a circumstance I have seen and/or heard about often in workplaces these days. There can be people who have been practitioners of a certain craft for many years. They have been through all the ups and downs. They have seen fads and fashions come and go. They are very experienced and have been through all sorts of situations. (Let me say too, that there are many things in life you cannot learn except by experience. It is like me learning the plumbing trade, there are practices, perspectives and insights that you can only pick up by experience in the field.) They are workers in their firm, they produce the income, but managers and office people actually run the firm. Often when things are decided these experienced workers are never consulted! Systems are set up by people who have not been practitioners, but the practitioners are expected to fit into the systems. Unfortunately, I have seen it again and again, that when these experienced workers do speak out, they are treated like "old-people-past-their-used-by-date". Their wisdom is not respected in this big new world. Often too it is not even properly listened too. Because they may question one part of some "system" it is assumed it is just the grumblings of an old person unwilling to change, and therefore it is not taken seriously.Their issues may well be valid, but they are writeen off too easily.

I have often met older workers who have grown quite cynical about the firm they work for, though they enjoy their craft. They tend not to respect their bosses. I have tended to think less of these people because of their cynicism. Sometimes, to be honest, they are grumbling old people unwilling to change. But not always. Sometimes they actually have insights that have come from their experience and their reflection on their work and life itself. I have come to understand the reasons for some of the cynicism. They feel totally undervalued. They feel their years of experience are written off. They feel that whatever they say, they will not be listened to. They are made to feel like old fools.

I once took a wedding for a young new accountant for a big well known firm. He was fresh out of university. He was looking forward to a career in the office. As we talked about their future I asked him which office he would be working in? He told me that he would not be in the office for some time. He would be working with a roading gang. Then after a time there he would be going into some workshops to work. After that he would be moving to a quarry. The firm's policy was that you did not work in the office until you had experienced the nitty gritty of the practitioners in the field for a decent length of time. I think that policy was wise! I love the TV program "Under-cover boss" where the boss goes under cover and works with the people in the field. Every time I have watched it the boss learns heaps from these older experienced people who have actually been there and done that. The people in turn, get the feeling that for once their voice has been heard. They are so grateful!

Tuesday, April 5, 2011

An epiphany...

I am, what many people would describe as a "liberal" christian. I do not like the classification, I think I am different from what many people think of as "liberal". I guess I look at scripture with an awareness of mythology, metaphor and the whole cultural background to the writing. This type of interpreting of scripture is often associated with liberals. I also try to be inclusive and non-dogmatic in my practice and I do believe that people of other faiths have insight into and experience of God.

I was at a meal at the Salvation Army hall in Christchurch. I got talking to two Baptists and they asked me what I would do if a homosexual minister wanted to join my ministers' association? Or, they said, someone who did not believe in the virgin birth, or who had questions about the bodily resurrection? I bit my lip and said that I would let them in. We went on to talk about divisions and difficulties within the church. I avoided getting into an argument about homosexuality or biblical literature etc.! Was I chicken? Was I not prepared to stand up for truths I believed in? I hate arguing about the faith!

I read letters to the editor in the paper. There are often religious people expounding in dogmatic terms their interpretation and running down other's belief or lack of belief. I often cringe! Even if I believe what they believe, to me believing the right things is not what the faith is about! Such arguments, such dogmatic expounding distorts the "Way". It does not give a true expression to the path Jesus gave us to follow.

The other day while preparing a sermon I had an epiphany. I could not include it in the sermon, but I have been stewing on it ever since. Here it is. In John's gospel there is the story of Jesus meeting the woman at the well. (John chapter 4...I suspect the details of the story and conversation have been greatly adapted by the author of John... but he is making "Jesus points" or passing on the spirit of Jesus in the story.) Jesus a Jewish male, breaks all sorts of conventions by spending time talking with a Samaritan woman! In public too! Anyway the woman asks Jesus; "My Samaritan ancestors worshipped God on this mountain, but you Jews say that Jerusalem is the place where we should worship God." She presents Jesus with a dogmatic problem. Who is right? Who is "in" and who is "out"? What ritual is "proper"? The question sounded very like the question the two Baptist guys asked me. It is just like the letter writers to the paper... scoring religious brownie points in a debate. Jesus answers something like this; "Woman, believe me, the hour is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. ..... the hour is coming, and is now here, when true worshippers will worship the father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth."
My epiphany is this... The woman comes with dogma and differences and when Jesus responds with "God is Spirit" he is saying, "Such questions are irrelevant, God is bigger than such religious arguments and differences... he is greater than your various interpretations of him... switch on to his bigness!" In her introduction to her book "The Case for God" Karen Armstrong says, "One of the things I have learned is that quarrelling about religion is counterproductive and not conducive to enlightenment. It not only makes authentic religious experience impossible but it also violates the Socratic rationalist tradition." .. A little later she points out... "Religion is complex; in every age, there are numerous strands of piety. No single tendency ever prevails in its entirety. ... But a deliberate and principled reticence about God and/or the sacred was a constant theme not only of Christianity but in the other major faith traditions until the rise of modernity in the West. People believed that God exceeded our thoughts and concepts and could only be known by dedicated practice. We have lost sight of this important insight..." We miss out on connection with God when we are wrapped up in dogma and certainty. We discover the reality in practice and "walking as Jesus walked".

My comment to the two "dogmatic Baptists" was that I found it useless trying to discuss differences with fellow Christians. But when Christians get together to express love for others (as we were in Christchurch or as they do in Habitat for Humanity) God, or the sacred is experienced in their midst!

My epiphany was, and I am still stewing on its implications, that the expression of love together with others, is worshipping God in spirit and in truth. When we experience God in this way, in our heart of hearts religious dogmatism is exposed as irrelevant, small minded and out of tune with the nature of "God". Our hearts, our minds and affections are expanded to incorporate so many "others" who are different.

This Jesus saying says to me that God is bigger than our various interpretations of him. Don't get wrapped up in your dogma, but experience and participate in the love, the spirit of God.

On this passage I love this monologue.

Sunday, April 3, 2011

What a week!

Sunday night is my traditional "blogging" night, but what do I want to write about? I have some posts bubbling away in my mind on some topics, but I thought I would complete the story of my week.
Completing Christchurch..
In Christchurch I completed my week of door knocking. We knocked on doors, introduced ourselves as coming from the Salvation Army and wanting to touch base to make sure everyone was OK, and "did they need any assistance"? It was a very interesting week. Here are some observations...
  • The quake on February 22nd must have been an incredibly violent experience. As we knocked on doors we kept coming across people who were still terrified of another quake. One couple had slept in their camper van parked away from any buildings for five weeks, just so they could be safe if another big earthquake hit. Only on the day before we knocked on their door, did they venture to sleep in their house. People living on their own find it particularly difficult.
  • It was great to be working as a team and with my partner. Often I work alone here, but up there I was with a bunch of people. While we were encountering sadness and involved in intense conversations, there were hilarious times of laughter in between.
  • I am not the sort of person that enjoys knocking on doors and establishing a quick relationship with people, but I did it successfully. I felt confident in my ability to say the right thing, listen creatively and give support to people. It was a confirming experience for me. I did well.
  • The impact of the earthquake is very profound. It has cost people quite a bit to just begin to rebuild their lives. (e.g. One mum told us how much it added to her grocery bill having to buy bottled water) We encountered people who had lost employment or who had taken a cut in the number of hours of work. It will take a long time before life is back to "normal" for many Christchurch people. One person made the comment that it is and will be a different kind of "normal".
  • There were some great expressions of solidarity, compassion and togetherness. One family invited people in their street to share a meal at their house. Another elderly lady fed the cats of all who were away. People called on others who were on their own. There was graffiti encouraging people. I hope that spirit is maintained.
  • A lot of the houses in the suburb we visited housed dysfunctional families, heaps of unemployed people, with unhealthy lifestyles and attitudes. While the earthquake had made things worse for them, they were already in a mess. I worry that in NZ we are producing a sizable "underclass" of people whose lives are simply a mostly miserable existence. I guess if I door knocked in Dunedin in a similar way in a number of areas of town I would find the same sort of thing. It is extremely sad!
I had a busy week. We had to be ready to board our vans every morning at 6:30 a.m. and did not get back to the camp until after 7 at night. We were on our feet all day and so physically tired, but in strange beds with sometimes disrupted sleep. After driving the four and a quarter hours home, I was tired. On Saturday I had a four hour Night Shelter Trust meeting, and preparation for Sunday. In Church this morning as I told a story my voice cracked up and I had to hold myself together to stop from weeping in front of people. After Church I simply bombed.

I have a day off tomorrow, but strangely enough I wish I was going back to Christchurch to help out again.
Me "from the Salvation Army"?
As I went door knocking I would say something like, "Hi we are from the Salvation Army". It was actually pretty obvious because we had high vis jackets with the Red Shield on the front and back. As I worshipped with these people I figured that I would probably be kicked out of the Salvation Army for some heretical opinions. They are much more conservative theologically than me. I could not identify with a lot of their religious stuff. I did like their passion for service though and they certainly had a great reputation and lots of respect. I wondered, where were my liberal/progressive Christian colleagues? I guess they were holding candle lighting worship services for Christchurch? ... fair enough. ... yeah right! Somebody once described me as an "evangelical liberal". They said I had liberal views, but the passion of an evangelical.
Anyhow I love this quote from William Booth....

“While women weep, as they do now, I'll fight; while children go hungry, as they do now I'll fight; while men go to prison, in and out, in and out, as they do now, I'll fight; while there is a drunkard left, while there is a poor lost girl upon the streets, while there remains one dark soul without the light of God, I'll fight, I'll fight to the very end!”

  • An evening photo of a Catholic Cathedral, part of which was destroyed in the quake.
  • My partner for the week. From South Africa originally, a Dutch Reformed Church member, we spent much of our time in good humoured (mostly) arguing, when we were not listening to the needs of people. (Or avoiding guard dogs!)
  • The team heads out from the van in pairs.
  • The team, my colleagues for the week. I had only met one of them before (the CEO of Workplace Support) but pretty soon we felt like a group of long standing friends.