Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Catching up.

Busier & busier.
With telling strange stories from my past it is some time since I really shared. Life seems to be getting busier and busier. Without my going looking for it, every part of my life (Church, chaplaincies, Night Shelter etc.) seems to have additional extras hitting me. Each day never seems to have enough hours in it, I often work late at night, and am often lying awake stewing on tasks unfinished. While I am coping, there are times when I feel a bit stretched.
Night Shelter
I am on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. Because of funding constraints we have been going through a series of restructuring meetings. This has involved extra meetings and also some different experiences. As deputy chair I went along as support for the chairman when we met with staff essentially making them redundant. I was also involved in the interview process for the new appointment. It has been quite a learning curve and been a little bit sad and stressful. Normally as a Workplace chaplain I am wrist rubbing people who face redundancy, not making people redundant.
I visit four work places every week, and three of the four have "stuff" happening. The Brewery has changes because of Christchurch earthquakes. Again I have had to take on board some of the pain of people having to change and having to make decisions. There are so many new people down from Christchurch that at times it feels like a new chaplaincy. I am pleased that people talk, even though it involves extra time and stress.
National leaders visit
Two representatives of our denomination's national leadership group came for a visit to see where we are at and to try to encourage us to go to a convention. They are on a different wavelength than where I am at, so I was a little stressed about their visit. As it turned out things were kept at a fairly light level and it was a reasonable meeting. I appreciated their determination to visit, since the ash cloud prevented their first arranged visit. But I am (and can't help but being) "different" than where they are at.
A good book
I have read a book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan on the Apostle Paul. (The First Paul) It is a good book, helping me to put Paul's writings in context and understand them better. I will be referring to it again and again in my sermon preparation I am sure. One thing they point out is the movement within the New Testament that "domesticates" the Way of Jesus and of the radical Paul. There are genuine letters of Paul. There are letters, attributed to Paul, which most scholars agree are not from his hand. And there are letters whose authorship are disputed and questioned. The Borg & Crossan go through such subjects as slavery, equality of the sexes, and relationship to governing authorities and they show how in genuine Paul letters there is radical teaching which slowly gets more conformed to cultural norms as you go from genuine letters, to disputed letters to those later ones which are definitely not Paul's. I think this process always goes on within the church. Jesus is modified so that we can handle him. Anyway, I commend the book.
Drop-in story... "I just wanna be loved"
We run a drop-in centre on Friday nights. Lately we have been getting about 50 through. Mental health patients, unemployed, people with addictions and others. We have run it since 1995, and it is still worth having in my view. One of our regulars in his 40's came in on Friday night with a few beers in. He has been deaf most of his life, so is hard to understand. Early in the night my wife went up to him and offered him food, encouraging him to quieten down a bit. He grinned, said, "Yes" then putting his arms around her shoulders and gave her a tender kiss on her forehead. It was quite cute. A little later on he was upset and he ushered me behind a curtain to talk in private. He pulled out a plate out of his mouth and showed me how the two front teeth it was holding had broken off. He was sure it had happened in the drop-in.  Almost sobbing he said, "They cost a lot! - 800 bucks!" rubbing his fingers together like he had notes in his hand. Then he said something very sad. "Look at me?" pointing to his mouth with gaps where teeth should be, "I look funny! - All I want is someone to love me! - they won't now!"  A little later as he was leaving he thought someone said something insulting to him, he spun around and with fist clenched strode toward them yelling. My wife calmly stepped in front of him and like a mother calmed him down. He will be back this week apologising. It reminded me of another drop in guy who said to me once, "I just want a girlfriend. Why can't I get a girlfriend?" We have a notorious lady who comes who is often drunk and sometimes smelling. Lately whenever she comes, she will stand in front of me, and insist on a hug sometime during the night! I do like her. I find, though they are very different from me, I feel deeply about my Friday night friends.
Why am I different?
The National leaders talk statistics and want me to go to a convention where I'll learn about "reaching people", "adding to your church". I get copious leaflets, letters and posters inviting me to attend such seminars. (The cynic in me wonders if some people are not making big money out of running conventions for insecure pastors .... they often cost a lot to attend!) I have other ministers, both liberal and conservative, who I talk with who are wrapped up in "growing the Church" and the church "establishment."  I ask myself, why do I feel out of step and not in tune with these guys and this emphasis? Is it that I am trying to rationalise the fact that my church is not bursting at the seams? Am I theologising my failure? I don't think so. I just think differently. I worked it out that I ask different questions. They ask, "How can we grow the church?" My prior question is, "What does it mean to be a community of followers of Jesus today? How do we give a true expression of the faith?" They see God's Kingdom as fairly closely allied with the church. I see the movement of God, the kingdom of God, the forcefield of God in the world, in people, groups and society and even in other spiritualities. They feel called to the Church. I feel called to Dunedin, with the Church as a base for ministry in the city. They see Jesus as the Son of God who came to start a new and true religion. I see Jesus as a God-person, a God filled Jewish person who had a sense of call to make the faith real for people, and connect them to the love at the heart of the universe, and therefore with each other. ... I am just different, bouncing from different starting points. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I should not be a minister within the church, I push the boundaries of orthodoxy? I cannot be anywhere else though.
I have not been running or biking regularly. My knee is playing up and does not want to come right. (Though I notice improvements - it is not "grating" as it used to do.) My running friend, for different reasons also has an injured knee. Our once a week runs are now a walk up to and around a city reservoir and back down the hill. (see the panorama photos she took and made up) I also went to the specialist at the hospital about my prostate. I will spare you the details of the tests (not a fun pastime) but to my surprise the doctor turned out to be a delightful young asian lady doing these very un-delightful things to me! She was comfortable with my condition but booked a biopsy for sometime in the future.
I have this dream of my down town church building being a centre for a lot of life-enhancing things happening in it and around it. That is a part of what I call "Space2B"... my dream for the church. We had a political hopeful call on Saturday night. (We had a multi-cultural mid-winter potluck tea and short concert) He is a candidate in a fairly safe seat in the next parliamentary elections to be held later in the year. He introduced himself and said, "I hear this place is a hub for a lot of things happening around it. Is that right?" I grinned - he had described my dream.  I replied, "Yes, that's where we are headed, we have a way to go, but that's what we want to happen." I was pleased with that feedback. If he's hearing that, maybe we're headed in the right direction.

Life's an interesting journey and that has been my path lately. Journey well whoever and where ever you are.  - God is in you and among you.

Photos: Taken by Jane

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