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.
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.