Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Not a teenager anymore.

"Wanda" won't start.
We arrived home this morning after roll starting "Wanda" (our 1990 Nissan Bluebird) I went to work and came home after 7p.m. I had my tea blobbed out in front of TV, watched another program then decided to check for emails and then go out and checkout Wanda. Head light switched on, Swandri coat, keys, voltage meter and I ventured out into the night in our drive way. I Measured the power in the battery. I found the starter motor and wobbled the leads. I attached jump leads and attempted a start, and did a couple of other tests. It is obviously not a battery problem, but a starter motor or lead connection problem.

When I was young I would think nothing of setting up a lead light and working on a car outside in the winter until midnight. I have taken many starter motors out and cleaned up connections. I have been known to take starter motors apart and clean them up and get them going again. But tonight after I had done my tests I looked at the motor, felt the chill in the air and decided to call it quits. I probably could have at least diagnosed the problem some more and maybe taken the starter motor out to take in to an auto electrician. But tonight I decided that getting cold, getting dirty, bending over at funny angles, lying on concrete and doing all this in the cold dark air was not for me. I shut the bonnet and went inside in the warm again. I must be getting old.... as a young man I would have loved doing that!

Sunday, May 29, 2011

A weekend off!

Weekend Celebration

My wife and I traveled to Christchurch this weekend to celebrate my young sister’s sixtieth birthday with my family. It was a good Saturday night when we enjoyed a cabaret with some clever people entertaining us with music appropriate for a sixty year old. We had two of our children there and their partners and they were able to catch up with cousins. On the Sunday we went around to my sister’s place and had lunch with family there. All of my siblings and their wives were there so we caught up on each other with lots of conversation and some memories.


It was interesting being in Christchurch again after my two stints there assisting with earthquake recovery. The place still looks very beaten up. On the Sunday morning I got up and had a run down Blenheim Road, around part of Hagley Park and back home. I started running about 7:50 and on the frosty morning it was so cold that my hands hurt. I was jogging around the park when the sun got high enough to shine through the trees (very picturesque – I wished I had brought my camera) and by the time I was running home it was warm enough to enjoy the day. Two things - I ran along and saw all these big green sewerage tanks strapped together in front of these buildings. As I looked at these I realized it was outside the public hospital! There is so much work poor old Christchurch needs to have done to repair the earthquake damage! (There were at least two aftershocks while we were there.) Secondly as I jogged around one part of the park I was reminded of running around a park in Amsterdam. The scenery was very similar. I got to wondering what Christchurch would be like if it fostered a bike culture like Amsterdam? It is flat. I am sure it would do people good to bike and also clear the air of a lot of pollution. If I was mayor of Christchurch that is what I would be looking into, it would be a great asset.


We caught up on lots of people over the weekend. While driving home we were talking about these people, and then went on to talk about the many people in our lives. A number of people we know have faced or are facing the dreaded cancer, with uncertainty about their future. Quite a few among our contacts and extended family have experienced a break up of their marriage or live with a marriage that is not nearly as supportive and life giving as it could be. And finally, a number of people struggle with life because of the on-going unwise choices that they keep making. Our hearts were heavy as we thought about all the struggles, stresses and pain people we knew were facing. We also felt incredibly fortunate and just lucky to have the life we live. Cherish life and look after the people you love.

Out of step again?

I got talking to a minister and he started talking denominational politics and who represented who, how to maintain control of churches, what was right and what was wrong. I had two reactions at first. My first reaction was to say under my breath, “Tell someone who cares!” Such things no longer interest me. I am wrapped up in representing Jesus in the community and I have lost interest in the politics of the denomination. My second reaction was to then feel guilty. I have been the president of our Denomination in NZ. I have been on the Conference Council. I was employed by the hierarchy as a fieldworker for two years. Shouldn’t I as a minister be concerned and involved? But I am so out of step that I can’t be bothered with the issues any more. They seem irrelevant to where I am at in my faith, my ministry and my Christian involvement in the community. But I felt a bit guilty when this minister reported that someone he was talking to complained that “David does not go to conferences any more!”

I got to thinking about Jesus and his reaction to internal political arguments among his band of disciples. He basically said that sort of thinking was “of the world” and not “Kingdom thinking”. I am not sure Jesus would have wanted the imperialistic structures that are formed in his name! I think he too would lose interest in such internal politics. I decided that my view off Jesus was very different than much Church thinking… but to quote another religious rebel, “Here I stand, I can do no other!” (I just got an email; the hierarchy of my denomination wants to meet with me… oh well?!)

Wanda broken!

I have enjoyed driving our 1990 Nissan Bluebird. She travels so well on the open road and is so comfortable. … but I noticed that when starting the starting motor did not buzz as well as it ought to have. We got to Timaru on the way home and took a leisurely stroll through the shops. When we arrived back at Wanda she would not start even with jumper leads. A nice young man pushed us and we drove to our favourite motel in Oamaru. We unloaded our luggage and parked Wanda on a hill for a roll start tomorrow morning to go the final leg home. We’ll have to get her fixed when we get home. Tonight we will relax in the luxury of this expensive motel and pretend we are rich. Overall, so far, it has been a nice weekend off! Back to the real world tomorrow.

Photos: The music at the cabaret... ABBA and Tina Turner imitation.... good fun.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Two brothers.

When I was driving through town today I honked my horn and waved out at a man I know. He grinned and waved enthusiastically back at me. While I was running tonight I got to reflecting on this man. He is one of two brothers I know. They are both in their sixties. One is very religious, the other does not attend church, except when he was a child the family attended a very conservative church. On the surface one would think that I would have more in common with the religious brother. But I feel more drawn to the non-religious one.

Whenever I meet the religious one he immediately wants to talk "religion" and "Church". He shares what's going on at his Church. (often in a boasting type of way) He tells me his latest religious hobby horses. He pontificates on what churches should be doing etc. etc. When I meet the non-religious one he says "Hi, how the hell are you?" and he listens to the response. We talk about our health, our weekend, our attempts or lack of attempts to stay fit, our plans for exercise and anything else that happens in our lives. His conversation is often dotted with "light" swear words, and there is often gentle teasing and laughter.

My question: Which is the more "spiritual" conversation? The religious one, where we talk religion? Or the one where two people actually "connect" as people and are genuinely interested in each other? I know I feel warmed and valued in conversations with the non-religious brother. I often feel the religious brother is more on guard, competitive and trying to evaluate where I fall on the theological spectrum. (I think it is sad that religion often seems to distort otherwise nice people. They feel they have to be 'religious' and therefore are not open to themselves or others.) True spirituality should do the opposite!

Often when I talk to religious people about my community orientated activities they will ask, "Do you get a chance to talk religion to them?" or some such question. It really annoys me. I am deeply privileged to connect with people, to laugh, listen and love. To me that is truly "spiritual". Sometimes faith issues do come up, but they don't have to for the conversation to be deeply spiritual.

Just thought I'd share that... it is along the theme of my last post.
Photo: Conversations in Space2B.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The week I met God!

I have survived another very full and busy week of ministry and workplace chaplaincy. One of the aspects of life I have found powerful is the human interactions and I'll tell you about some of them.
* On Tuesday I was visiting a chaplaincy and not long before I was to leave the lunch room, one of the bosses came in. He sat down opposite me and we talked about his life and recent changes. We are both in our sixties so we shared health stories and our experiences with doctors and various ailments. He then took the opportunity to catch me up on all the people in the job who were off sick, had ailments or were on light duties. We speculated about what retirement would mean for each of us. We had known each other for 17 years, and it was good to spend the time together.
* On another day I visited another place and talked with a number of people, and was pleased with the warmth of the reception I got. I was talking to one guy catching up on his work and his life when I felt this dig in my ribs. A fire crew was visiting the site and these guys could not walk past me without giving me cheek.
* I walk between the church and a couple of my chaplaincies and am always intrigued by the number of people that I meet and talk with on the journey. Every time I make the trip I end up talking to some body. The other day I came across a man who used to come to our drop-in centre. He is a man I respect who is a published poet and writer. I crossed the road and realised he was crossing just down from me. We stopped and talked. I love how whenever we meet we slide into significant and thoughtful stuff quickly and comfortably. He had recently had a friend suicide and we talked about that.
* On Friday night I had a great night of warmth, acceptance and friendship at the drop-in centre. Even though it is a very long day, I felt it was a very special night, and after 16 years of running the drop-in centre I still feel it is well worth doing.
* On Saturday night we had a "family night" linked to Space2B. We have these evenings, with a "pot luck" meal, when particularly new immigrants come with their ethnic food to share. Before we eat we go around the room and share where we have come from. Here is the list; New Zealand, Australia, United Kingdom, Israel, Philippines, Iraq, Malaysia, India, Pakistan... that's all that I can remember. All I know is that it was a great experience wandering around eating the great variety of foods talking to the great variety of people. You had a sense of diversity, variety and difference, but ironically a much deeper sense of essential unity, of being brothers and sisters on the journey of life together. I felt quite privileged.

Many years ago I read a book by J A T Robinson called "Honest to God". Many considered it heretical then (written in 1963) and I guess many would still think that way. I have been looking through it again since my experiences reminded me of truths expounded in that book. I remembered that he mentions in the book that God is found in relationships. That where Jesus speaks of "wherever two or three are gathered ... there I am in their midst" points to this experience. (somewhere in the book) It is a long time since I read the book but that has stuck with me all these years. I pulled the book out of my bookshelves (yes I do sometimes find the book I want!) and thumbed through it. He points out that God is not so much the "God up there" but more "a depth at the centre of life". I share some quotes;

But for the Bible 'the deep things of God' cannot be plumbed, the transcendence of God cannot be understood, simply by searching the depths of the individual soul. God, since he is Love, is encountered in his fullness only 'between man and man'. (That sexist language was OK in 1963)

God, the unconditional, is to be found only in, with and under the conditioned relationships of this life: for he is their depth and ultimate significance.

Whether one has 'known' God is tested by one question only, 'How deeply have you loved?' - for 'He who does not love does not know God; for God is love'.

That is enough to make my point. I believe that God is a reality wherever people meet each other with openness, a sense of fraternity and love. It is my experience that somehow the transcendence of God can be experienced as people meet with people. It is also my experience that in the meeting and sharing together personal growth can happen and wholeness is discovered. That is why I run a drop-in centre, Space2B, sit and chat in chaplaincies and meet people on a regular basis. While I am basically a shy guy who likes his own company, again and again if I forget myself, get out of my comfort zone a bit and reach out to others with an open spirit, I experience "the sacred" in the midst of ordinary life amongst ordinary people who I come to love.

This week I met God.... again and again! And for that I am deeply grateful.

* My copy of "Honest to God" by Bishop John Robinson. Unfortunately Bishop Robinson died at a relatively young age.
* The "Phantom" book given to me by one of my blog readers. I include this photo just to make my friend in Australia jealous. He is a "Ghost who walks" fan.

Friday, May 20, 2011


Most of today I spent at a professional development day. We received training in conflict resolution. I went rather reluctantly because I have had a very busy week and could really not afford the time. I rushed to the office this morning, did a couple of emails and rushed out to the training venue. Straight after I went out to the fire stations then, after checking phone messages and emails directly into our Friday night drop-in centre. I have dried heaps of dishes, served food and spent time playing pool, conversing and joking. It was a good night. I listened to a number of people, there was a feeling of warmth and acceptance and lots of friendship shared. We packed up at 9:30 and piled all the rubbish and stuff in the cars. I went up to a woman, the town drunk, a lady I never the less quite like, and asked her if she wanted a lift home. She very respectfully and politely declined my offer, and her friend thanked me so respectfully for offering. ... As I walked to my car I had a warm fuzzy feeling. I was tired out, but somehow it felt like I had been to a really special worship service... it felt like God had been present in what we were doing. Love was present, so I guess he was.

And a friend who I have only met through this blog site, dropped a big Phantom comic book at the church for me. It will be my much appreciated bed time reading... it is so compelling and winds back the clock to my boyhood. Love the Ghost who walks.... thanks! And the women he rescues are also gorgeous! :-)

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Weeping inside...

A man read my blog recently. I bumped into him in the street and he said something like, "I read your blog! - Gee you are a grumpy old bugger!". Well, John, today too I am a bit sad. I had to do my "statistics" for chaplaincy and I hate them, but even they faded into insignificance as I have had to think about other people's misery or sadness. A man who has a mental health problem turned up at our Space2B without his shoes. (It was a cold day in Dunedin) He has a problem finding a place to stay at nights, and he is a problem when he stays anywhere. I got to thinking also of friends and family going through tough times, and I wish I could snap my fingers and make things better, but most often I feel helpless to help in any way. I had to deliver some bad news to someone today and I felt their pain. I had to move someone out of an abusive situation, and I felt sad for what this woman was going through. Some of these people I like and I am close to and I ache deeply for them. Some of these people I do not necessarily "like" nor do I know them very well, but they are "brothers and sisters" in life's journey and it pains me to see them suffering or living stifled lives. So tonight I have been sitting blobbed out in front of TV comedy shows with a heavy heart.

Jesus in Luke 19:41 "came closer to the city, and when he saw it, he wept over it, saying, 'If you only knew today what is needed for peace!' " The leaders of this city were soon going to have him killed, but he had a heavy heart for these people. Tonight I weep inside for people I know.

Sometimes people seem to suggest that you have to be positive, smiling and "happy" all the time. I see these super positive people with gooey glib sayings on face book. I guess that's nice, but I happen to think it is OK to weep at times. It can be the beginning for renewed efforts to make life better for some people in some way some where, even if you can't change the whole world. Someone said (I think it was M Scott Peck) that facing up to depression or sadness takes courage, because when you do you are prepared to be "real", to be dissatisfied with the way things are and you can turn that into motivation to bring about change and growth that is needed. Being happy all the time can mean you are blocking out some real need for change to happen.

Today I have had cause to feel a heavy heart, not for me, but for others I am aware of. It helps me to know that sometimes Jesus too had a heavy heart.

A couple of quotes:

"I am only one, but I am one.
I cannot do everything,
but I can do something;
and because I cannot do everything,
I will not refuse to do something that I can do." .... Helen Keller (Blind and deaf!)


God grant me
to accept the things I cannot change
to change the things I can,
and wisdom
to know the difference.

I have been sitting here going over the things I have to do tomorrow. EEEK! there are not enough hours! Oh well, another prayer... I have this one by my bed.

"Lord, help me to remember
that there is nothing that is going to happen today (tomorrow)
that you and I, together
cannot handle."

Monday, May 16, 2011

Quotes that appeal...

Failure to wonder at yourself.
"People travel to wonder at the height of mountains, the huge waves of the seas, at the long course of the rivers, at the vast compass of the ocean, at the circular motion of the stars, and yet they pass by themselves without wondering. .... St Augustine.

"Happiness is inward and not outward;
and so it does not depend on what we have,
but on what we are." .... Henry van Dyke.

"One should not pursue goals that are easily achieved.
One must develop the instinct for what one can just barely achieve
through one's greatest efforts.'
(Oh dear ... in my experience this one is hard to calculate.)

Of value...
"Try not to become a person of success,
but rather try to become a person of value."

A successful man?
That man is a success;
  • Who has lived well, laughed often and loved much;
  • who has gained the respect of intelligent people and the love of children;
  • who has filled his niche and accomplished dreams;
  • who leaves the world a better place than he found it;
  • who has never lacked appreciation of beauty and failed to express it;
  • who has looked for the best in others and gave the best he had.
- R L Shep.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

What a ride...

I made it!
I had a busy week with very full days, but I managed to get through virtually everything I had to do. As I look back on the week I celebrate that.

The world a safer place? Really?
So the Americans got Osama bin Laden. I guess he had it coming. I appreciated that they did not wipe out whole towns doing it. I also appreciate the American feeling on this. My country has not had 3000 people killed by an act of terrorism. But there are a few things that trouble me.
  • I felt sick about the celebrations that went on. While he was a bad and deranged man, he was still a human being and that makes him my brother. If he had to be killed we should be sad about the necessity and the whole mess this world has got itself into. If you must, be pleased that a job has been done but be sad that we intelligent human beings get ourselves so twisted that nations and people's hate each other that much.
  • Secondly, our intelligent Prime Minister, John Key says in reaction to the news of Osama's death, "The world will be a safer place." .... beep ... wrong... ultimately violence begets violence and does not bring peace. Already there have been deaths of innocent people in response to the killing. Killing Osama bin Laden could have just have been like when a horse was tied next to my bee hive... the bees were stirred up and went wild.
  • As I was walking the hills yesterday I had this vision from my childhood of gangs of kids in a play ground. One gang has someone they want to avenge. They do so, then the next gang wants pay back. I recall gangs of kids roaming the playground and indeed the streets around the school on this endless battle.... until... the school principal lined us up and in no uncertain terms told us to stop being childish.... why do adults play the same game with horrendous consequences? We may be able to rationalise war and endless fighting, but when are we going to learn that Dr Martin Luther King was right when he said that "Love is the only power that can turn enemies into friends". Jesus looked out on Jerusalem and wept saying something like; "When will you learn the ways of peace?" ... lets spend as much effort and money on peace as we do on war.
Married 42 years.
On Tuesday at about 8 p.m. we finally got to celebrate our 42nd Wedding anniversary with a meal out. You get all nostalgic at such times. I feel like I am only in my 40's & 50's most of the time, so I find it hard to believe we have been married that long. As I look back it has been an interesting ride. For eighteen months she was a teacher and I was a plumber... even then we took into our house an alcoholic who ended up taking his own life. Then I began training for ministry and became a University Student, and we became parents. We traveled to Melbourne and studied for four years. We had student ministries while we studied, life was exceptionally busy with preaching, visiting, Sunday School, youth groups on top of very full weeks of study, and another child. We graduated and had a 6 year ministry at Palmerston North. Adopting two mixed race babies was a new experience. (I read a Readers Digest paragraph about a lady who adopted a child then became pregnant and had another. She was asked by a visitor once which one was "hers". "They both are." she replied. The nosy friend said, "No - which one did you adopt?" Without missing a beat the mother said, "You know I have completely forgotten." It was and is like that for us.) We lived for two years in a caravan visiting Churches. We lived in a country village and had a half time ministry for a year. I worked on farms, a shearing gang, we milked goats and grew veges. I worked outside of ministry for two years, when we had a failed "retreat" project and lost a friendship. We have spent something like 22 years in ministry in Dunedin. We fostered a severely handicapped child who really is "our daughter", just like the rest. We have done things like Christmas Dinners, coaching school boy cricket, Adult Literacy, a Drop-in centre, a regular family program, Habitat for Humanity, Industrial chaplaincy, tramping trips, half-marathons, social work and counselling studies, teachers aiding, involvement in St John and all sorts of projects and experiences in between. We have met hordes of interesting people. It has been very challenging almost all of the time. We have found ourselves in situations that we would never have thought possible. We have been stretched to the limit very often. If you have read much on this blog site you know some of the inner battles I have. We have been shown an incredible amount of kindness along the way. Family-wise you worry about your kids, you have ups and downs but we have a family who care about each other and enjoy opportunities to be together. We have never been and never will be rich. Looking back it has been 42 years of traveling with Jesus. Our life has been really rich with meaning, heaps of variety, lots of fulfillment, personal growth and mind and spirit stretching experiences. Today's lectionary Bible reading I preached on was John 10: 1 - 10. It ends with Jesus saying; "I have come that they might have life, and have it abundantly." As I look back over the last 42 years, that's how I would describe our life..... If I die tomorrow I could say I have had, by the grace of God, "Life abundant!" ... it has been one hell of a ride!

Exercise: A sad tale... not much exercise and I have put on weight. Yesterday I walked for two hours forty minutes onto Swampy Summit ... a great time. Today I rode my bike into town, walked with my running friend who has a messed up knee, and rode home again.(22k) A good time.... riding home with a strong tail wind and rain chasing me was a good blast.

Photos: Some from my walk yesterday. The top of Flagstaff. Looking at the city as the sun sets and looking back on the track I walked up.... which is what I have done mostly in this post.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

I am getting there.

From depression to hope...one step at a time.
It is 11:30 on Wednesday night. On Sunday I felt fearful and depressed. I essentially worked Monday. I ran a good funeral on Tuesday, at least that is what the feedback suggested. I did my chaplaincies, did some office work and attended a Trust meeting on Tuesday evening. Good decisions were made for the future and I felt I made constructive contributions to that. My wife and I treated ourselves to an expensive nice evening meal in a fancy restaurant for our 42nd wedding anniversary. Today I have spent a lot of time hosting people in Space2B, attended a couple of meetings, and had a 6:30pm - 9 p.m. tea time meeting. It was a full day but I still came home and completed some work typing up last Sunday's sermon for our Church blog.

Depressed on Sunday I put my "head down and bum up" and slowly but surely worked my way through those things that worried me. I am feeling more positive now. I still have two massive days ahead of me, but I know that "one thing at a time" I can cope with it. ... I have a decision to make by Friday. I can release part of my load and make life easier... On the surface it sounds a no-brainer... make life easier! But in doing that I could be letting people down and also cutting back on opportunities to be all that I can be! Either way there will be some regrets, life is not black and white.

Wish me luck. ... I have learned in life that when you are up against it, it helps to dig in and just take and focus on one step at a time. Eventually you come out the other end amazed at what you have achieved..... I should sleep easily tonight.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Stop the bus...

Day off!
Mondays are my day off, right. Last week we had a call from a Habitat for Humanity house owner with some need. We ended up spending a good part of the day getting that sorted out. At the time you think "this is OK, I can handle it", but later in the week you begin to have a feeling of overload because you really have not had some decent time off.

Incoming...times two.
On Tuesday a guy from one of my chaplaincies came into Space2b to tell me that his father's health had reached a very low point and that he was not expected to last. On Friday I had contact with the same man, his father had died and he asked if I would take the funeral this Tuesday morning. I agreed to and sat talking to him for quite some time. I have preparation to do for that. It does not matter how many good funerals I take, (that is why I got this funeral, he liked what I did at an earlier family funeral) I still stress out about them and wonder if this will be the one I make a mess of.

Late in the week I received an email from the chairman of a Trust I am on, informing me of some events which required an emergency meeting of the Trust scheduled for Saturday morning. I dutifully attended the meeting, discussing some very weighty issues for several hours. I received a whole pile of work to do, with the next meeting set for Tuesday evening at 5:30 p.m. The work has to be completed by then, and presented at that meeting.

I worked hard getting today's service prepared. You always do a whole lot more research and thinking than comes out in the service. I explored "Fair Trade" and found it to be a very big subject with some sad stories, some very challenging implications and big issues.

I have an annoying knee that discourages much needed exercise. I am waiting for a hospital appointment for another medical problem, with a sense of uncertainty about the condition. (They said I was on the "semi-urgent" list several months ago!)

Monday is my "day off" but because of the impending funeral and the extra work for Tuesday evening, I will have to work all day. It will be another week without a true day off.

I have the funeral at 11 a.m. I will have to fit in my normal Tuesday activities and chaplaincy hours and I have a Trust meeting at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday is also my forty second wedding anniversary. I had hoped to do something special to mark it but it will be squeezed out.

It is strange, and a sign of some sort of burnout, I feel depressed. I watch TV comedy shows I would normally enjoy and don't laugh, they almost annoy me. I start doing notes for funeral or Trust work, but there seems to be a mental block. An inner panic arises... will I get past that tomorrow so that I will be ready by Tuesday? I look at the week ahead and see statistics to do, overdue visits to make, work needing to be completed and meetings to call. It feels like a long road. I long for a "normal" week, but I think I have decided I don't do "normal". It all looks a bit hard, but I know I will get through it. I have done before, and sometime I will reach a better place, but just now I could really do with a walk in the hills, a couple of days off, or somehow the foot eased off the accelerator of life.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Square peg (iii) - I HATE this job!

We used to have cadets at secondary school. For a few weeks each year we donned military uniforms (rough "sandpaper suits") and played at soldiers. The good thing was that we got to shoot rifles (22's, 303's) and even Bren guns. The bad thing was that it often meant marching. I got to be a low ranking NCO. My dad dropped by one day to see the parade, being an old soldier he was interested. When I got home from school he jokingly said, "Well done Mick (his nickname for me) you were the only one in step!" .... some times in church circles I certainly feel out of step.
Let me share some frustrations.
  • The Psalms in the Old Testament often have promises that God does not keep. They come from a religious development time when people thought that Yahweh protected good people from all harm and prospered them. Now I am often thankful for the dangers and hell holes life with God has kept me out of, but I have lived long enough to know that there are no guarantees for good people in life. Often when Psalms are read in Church I cringe. There can be people battling potentially terminal cancer and the Psalm is promising them the world! I know lots of faithful Christian people who end up with alzheimer's disease, slowly losing their mind... what does the Psalm say to them? Hymns, following the Psalms can be the same way. "Not a shadow can rise, not a cloud in the skies, but his smile quickly drives it away; not a doubt nor a fear, not a sigh nor a tear, can abide while we trust and obey." - Yeah right! A lot of faithful, honest people singing this could feel unnecessarily guilty!
  • Some of the readings, especially in the Old Testament have some very bloodthirsty, weird and "low" views on life and God. Studied in context with proper exegesis and understanding of the culture and literature, they have a message, but as a bland reading in Church they are hard to take. (I often think of this when Christians talk of bloodthirsty Muslim beliefs... "Have you read the Bible! Good grief... some ghastly stuff there!")
  • I struggle with hymn selection. As mentioned above many of the hymns have old and misleading concepts in them. They often reflect a substitutionary view of atonement. (e.g. "washed in the blood") So many of them, including the modern choruses reflect a very self centred, "bless me Jesus" type of faith. They do not reflect the giving generous way of Jesus that I believe is central to the faith.
  • I recall watching a UTube of Bishop John Spong speaking. He told how he sat in a service and counted how many times in the liturgy the worshippers groveled before God, pleading for mercy and admitting their guilt and shame. I forget the number, I think it was something like 18 times! He suggested that maybe once was enough! I feel out of step when hymns and prayers suggest this sort of stance. We have lay leaders lead prayer around communion and often there is a concentration on the "blood (always said with a bloodthirsty sounding flare) of Jesus which was the price paid for our salvation" because "without the blood there can be no forgiveness". That is NOT where I am at... when this happens I cringe and feel deeply out of step. If that is what I have to believe then count me out!
What is Church?
We have a Drop-in centre on Friday evenings. Apart from private prayer sometimes and sometimes private conversation, we do very little that is religious... but I believe it is "spiritual". We listen to people. We feed hungry people. We advise and guide people. We encourage people. We love people. They are a motley lot, virtually all of them unemployed, many with mental health problems, some with addictions and some with behavioral problems. They will say, "I won't be at Church next week!" and they mean drop-in centre. I call it my Friday night congregation. We have Space2B operating and people come in and converse and share a relaxed space in the back of the church. I think "Church" is operating, people are loving others and being loved. I visit workplaces as a chaplain. I sometimes talk religion, but not that often. I listen and I care. I often talk values. I sometimes act as a Christian celebrant for funerals, naming ceremonies and weddings. I often sit in when they go to fires or accidents. I will sit and appreciate the work of an engineer, a brewer or a beer filtering technician. I see it as something spiritual. .... but often church people do not see the worth of these things. They will ask, "Do you get to pray with them?" "When are we going to see any in church?" (on Sunday they mean) "Do you get to share the gospel?" - My concept of "Church" is out of step with the people who pay me to be a minister! I am a square peg in a round hole!

I HATE this job! In the last three posts I have listed off some of the reasons I am like a square peg in a round hole in Church ministry. Often on a Thursday night (when I am choosing hymns) or a Saturday (when I am crafting the sermon and service) or driving into Church on a Sunday morning with a knot in my stomach, I will emphatically almost shout at my wife, "I HATE this job!" - Choosing hymns I don't really like, but they are the best of a bad bunch. - Shaping my words so that I am trying to be true to myself, yet not offend some dear faithful saint. -Getting up to speak and knowing that most will let what I say blissfully go over them, "nice entertainment, but take it seriously... you have to be joking!". ...... Added to this is that there is a big part of me as a person that would gladly be a hermit. I really don't get a big kick out of standing up in front of people sharing my heart and soul. Going out and meeting new people, asking people to do things, socialising with people is not something that has come easily for me. (When as a young man I first mentioned that I was interested in ministry I had people saying incredulously, "Really? ... but you are the shy one!") Mixing with people is to some extent stressful for me, though feedback suggests I am good at it - One man says; "There is a special 'Daveness' that you have!" So for all sorts of reasons I am often heard to say "I hate this job!" ... sometimes with a very un-minister-like expletive added! Out of ministry I can think, believe and do what I like, but in ministry my life and faith is always being exposed.

But... there are seven things that tie me into it.
  1. I believe intensely that Jesus makes sense and that following him can make people more whole and make for a better community.
  2. The Church, though it has grossly distorted the way of Jesus, is the only place in the community that the "Jesus story" is kept alive!
  3. I believe that the questions I am asking, the thinking I am doing and gropings I make for a way ahead are valid, important and relevant.
  4. I believe I have an ability to communicate well with people, and have a task to try to take the progressive thinking of theologians and try to in some small way move people an inch or two toward a more "real" but intensely relevant faith.
  5. I believe I am a good bridge between the Church and people, able to show a relevant servant way of life that has credibility with secular people who have otherwise given up on the Church.
  6. I believe that in spite of the difficulties I have, God, the sacred movement or spirit uses my fumbling efforts and in ministry seems to be the only place I can do the things I feel called to do!
  7. There are some people within the Church, on the fringe of the Church and outside the Church asking similar questions, making similar noises and discoveries. They too are not static but on a journey... I love journeying people, they are exciting to be around.
There is a real sense that this "square peg" in a round hole, who often screams from his aching heart "I hate this job!" cannot and would not be anywhere else. ... It's a bugger!

I finish these three posts with the sentence I had early in the first one; "We write not only to tell others what we are thinking, but to tell ourselves what we are thinking." Sorry to bore you with my meanderings... but it does me good.

1. Jesus makes sense!
2. The Church... where the "Jesus story" is kept alive.
3. A square peg in a round hole.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Square peg (ii) - Different understandings?

Week's thoughts...
  • Royal wedding- Katherine and William got married. I did not watch all of the wedding, well not much of it at all. The one thing I did hear was the prayer that they both wrote. I liked it. I think they are both genuine people. I hope the media and the position don't mess them up and that they can be a real force for good in the world. The thing that gets me is the very banal, stupid, superficial and idiotic media attention. What is the dress like? How do you score it? Who is the most beautiful princess? Will it be Diana revisited? etc. etc. I cannot believe how people can keep on writing such dribble! Get a life and just let them live and be who they are!
  • The week's news - A guy gets beaten up by four car loads of people in Dunedin. NATO forces bomb Libya, people are being killed. A woman is sexually assaulted in Napier. Stabbing in a bar in Hamilton. Suspicious circumstances surround a burnt car with a body inside. A drug addict gets involved in armed robbery. .... etc. I feel so sad for the mess we get ourselves into and wonder why the hell we bother. Surely we can learn to live more civilly?
Easter Sunday... from a square peg.
I share with you essentially my Easter Sunday sermon outline.
The reading was Matthew 28:1 - 10... the story of the two Marys discovering the empty tomb. In my sermon I said that "it is not necessary to get all hung up about the historicity of this story, but rather we should listen for the experience and message being communicated." To be more honest than I was in Church, (I'll tell you if you promise to tell no one) I don't believe there was a great "earthquake", an angel of the Lord who came "down and rolled the stone away and sat on it". (I actually agree with a vicar who wrote in the local paper saying she believed that "Jesus' bones were still in Palestine".) So what do I believe the Gospel writers and early disciples were up to?
Trying to pass on a deep experience.
I spent a week in Christchurch working under the Salvation Army banner. One evening my partner received a text from her husband, obviously asking about her day. She said to me, "How on earth do we explain to the people back home what we are experiencing here?" We had knocked on so many doors and discovered heart breaking situations. We had met and related to so many people. We had experienced the liquefaction, the porta-loos in the street, the holes in the road etc etc. We had been lumped together with 14 other people in a team and become immediate friends. How do you communicate to other people what it was like? It is like that with deep experiences. They are difficult to communicate. I believe the resurrection stories are the disciples of Jesus, and the early church, using story telling techniques of the day, trying to communicate some deep experiences that they had after the death of Jesus. I use those stories to try to understand their experiences, without necessarily having to believe in the historical truth of those stories. What are some of those experiences?
You can't stop the fire!
There was a bush fire in a rural area north of Dunedin a few years ago. Fire crews and eventually helicopters went out to fight the fire. They extinguished it successfully. But a week or so later it burst into flames again. (A big embarrassment for firefighters) Out they went and fought the fire again. But a week or so later it burst into flames again! They discovered that the fire was burning in the roots of trees and bushes underground, surfacing and re-igniting! That really is what the early followers of Jesus experienced! He had been killed and buried. Extinguished! But somehow they discovered that the essence of his "life" was not dead and gone, that it still burned brightly. They discovered that his life was bigger than death. His impact and power was not dependent on his physical presence, but somehow it was still at work in them and around them, even though he was dead and buried. The words put into the mouth of the angel were true, "He is not here (among the dead) ....he is going ahead of you to Galilee" (Or Dunedin or wherever.) That's the experience they tried to communicate in these hard-to-believe stories. We 2000 years later can discover the same thing. I invite you to be open to it.
Be open to his eternal truth.
In Bill Bryson's "A Short History of nearly everything" there is a photo of human fossil remains. It is a mother and her little daughter. They are, get this, 900,000 years old! They lived THAT long ago! When we were in Aberdeen we saw an artifact that was found about a block away from where we were standing, showing that a community lived there 4,000 years ago. My niece had a baby daughter a week and a bit ago. (the baby has had several operations in that time and is battling for her life - pray for her please!) Jesus came and taught a message of love, of generosity, of sharing and compassion. That truth was real, relevant for the mum and daughter who lived 900,000 years ago, the community living at Aberdeen 4000 years ago, and for my niece and her daughter now. It will be true for our descendants years from now. One thing followers of Jesus discover is that his truth is eternal, it is at the heart of the universe and is bigger than fads or fashions, the passing of nations and powers and death itself. Be open to sense this life!
Sense the flow of his life...
In similar vein be open to sense the flow of Jesus life! Again and again in history you can see the spirit of Jesus emerging and making itself felt, bringing changes and enhancement to human life. Francis of Assisi, Florence Nightingale, William Wilberforce, Albert Schweitzer, Mother Teresa, Desmond Tutu, the Salvation Army workers in earthquake afflicted Christchurch, the people down at the homeless shelter, the conscientious politician keen to make a positive difference for people etc. .. are all part of this flow. There are countless unknown ordinary faithful people who have lived responsibly and compassionately, expressing the flow of his life. If you are open to it, you can sense the flow of the same "LIFE" that was expressed in Jesus, and sense that same spirit and compassion in your own inner being. A life that is bigger than Jesus' death, a flame and baton that goes on, an unstoppable force overcoming evil with the good again and again.
Sense him in people in your life...
There are people and experiences of relationships which are expressions of the life of Jesus. I have had friends who will listen to me rant, who will know and see my weaknesses, but still believe that I am a person of worth. After my first stint in Christchurch an ambulance officer reached out to me, invited me to have coffee with him and let me debrief. I see Curly Griffith, one of my church elders spend hours playing pool, befriending people who are difficult to love, listening, respecting and caring for them at our drop-in centre. Jesus life is bursting out of him. In our Space2b I see friends sitting having their lunch, supporting one another in conversation, encouraging, including and affirming. The healing love of Jesus is present. In the most unlikely looking people, I see Jesus' life.
Sense his partnership in your life...
I was doing some carpentry the other day and I could "feel" the presence of Martin a carpenter friend, advising me on what to do. When I am in my vege garden, Uncle Harry, long dead, is with me, I hear his advice and feel his partnership. (I used to garden with him as a teenager) When I cut my goats' toenails the other week, I talked to my goats just like Uncle George used to talk to his sheep in the sheep yards doing the same thing... he was "there". We often have these "mentors" as thinking buddies with us in life. In a similar, but much deeper way, Jesus can be "alive" and "with us" in the midst of life, shaping, moulding and guiding us in our journey. He can come and challenge your way of living. He can come and affirm you when you are rejected, alone or sense failure. He can be a partner with you when you reach beyond your comfort zone in your growth, in your caring for others or in your extending yourself. As you express his love, especially when you go against the flow around you, he can "sit beside you" as a partner. (You see how difficult it is to communicate deep experiences - these are real experiences but you slip into metaphorical language to explain them.)
In brief outline, this is how my sermon went on Easter Sunday.

Square peg....
So went my sermon on Easter Sunday. I experience the "life-that-is-bigger-than-death" of Jesus, though I don't believe the historicity of the resurrection stories. Now traditional Christianity has us celebrating empty tombs. It has us asserting and arguing for the "bodily resurrection". Traditional Christianity says, "Well because there is an empty tomb I can be assured of life after death." The traditional Christian easter "hope" is all about getting to heaven. I don't fit that mould!
I firmly believe that the life of Jesus has the power to make a difference in my life, in this rough old world of assaults, murders, wars, corruption and plain superficiality.
My resurrection beliefs, the "different" priorities, and my perspectives on scripture, however, often make me a square peg in a round hole in church circles as a minister, preacher and worship leader.

Photo: A photo taken by my friend Jane (http://daybydaybyjane.blogspot.com/) I love the mysterious nature of the light in the clouds. The sacred journey always has an element of mystery.... the sacred is always "bigger" than words can express.