Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Back in harness

Dunedin - the community I feel compelled to minister among.
First day back at work
Today is my first day back at work after my summer holidays. I have so far completed nine hours for the day with some more preparation work I want to get under my belt before I head to bed. This week we crank up the church activities for the year. Our Space2B lunch time open times begins tomorrow. Our Friday night drop-in centre begins on Friday. I am back taking church services on Sunday and of course today I began to visit chaplaincy sites. Last night I went up "my mountain" (Mount Cargill) and thought about the year ahead. How do we lead the Church community to be a useful presence in the community, meeting needs and encouraging whole living? How do I balance all the various responsibilities I have? From the top of the mountain I looked over the city and I thought of the various work places I visit, the suburbs and the people living in them I knew, the various ministries in the Church and I prayed about the year ahead. I hope this time next year I will be able to look back on 2012 and be pleased with what we have done. 
Good news on my health
During my holiday I had a prostate biopsy. It was not much fun and was made worse because the doctor doing the procedure exclaimed about the size of my prostate and decided he should take extra samples. It all sounded ominous. Today I went around to the hospital for the follow up appointment. While there is a little health concern, they said that as far as they could tell there was no cancer. I breathed a sigh of relief. They are going to see me again in 6 months. I was relieved to get that behind me.
"His truth is marching on.."
I have what is called a "progressive theology" that has an "incarnational-action" element to it. (A man once said to me, "Your theology is 'just do it!'")  My understanding of scripture takes into account modern scholarship. My emphasis is centred on Jesus being a model for living and for Church life. The Church should be a servant in the community as Jesus modeled servant living.  I spend a great deal of my time mixing in the community, and that to me is where the church should be. Our worship style is not "happy clappy".  Now my difficulty is that I feel out of step with so many fellow christians and my own denomination these days. There is a fundamentalism that is thriving, a literalistic theology combined with "happy clappy" worship, and while I have read and listened, I cannot be there. I have deep concerns about the direction of these emphases. I sometimes see deep damage being done. Often such people look at the likes of me and would see me as a heretic and even perhaps say, "No wonder his church is not growing much!" I certainly feel out of step often. But I cannot be anywhere else. This is what I believe and how I see the truth of Jesus. I do get despondent and feel alone and often up against it. I don't fit the old "establishment church" model. I do not fit the popular "happy clappy" model, but neither do I fit the "liberal" model. I am ... well "different" .. "peculiar" maybe. 
During the holidays I read a great book called "God is not a Christian", a collection of teachings of various sorts by Desmond Tutu of South Africa. In the days of apartheid he kept saying to his people and to any who would listen, that "this is God's world! A moral and just world! People who appose the ways of God should know that they will lose. Ultimately God's ways triumph!" He has a cheeky way of saying stuff. He says something like, "Actually we are being nice to our opponents. We are inviting them to join the winning side. They cannot win." He kept raising this placard of hope in the midst of the darkest days of apartheid. "God's ways cannot be defeated. History has shown that!" I read that and have been encouraged. I believe deeply that the basic directions of my thinking are "of Jesus". (Though I never live up to the ideals I see and have a whole lot more to learn.) In my gut I believe they are in line with the ways of God. In the face of few obvious returns and in spite of others who say I am on the wrong track, I have been encouraged to say to myself, "Ultimately, whether I live to see it or not, whether others agree or not, these ways will be seen to be true.  What I am living for and trying to express are the true ways and priorities of God, and they cannot be defeated." In the words it is said Martin Luther used, "Here I stand, I can do no other." Also in the words of the old song, I believe deeply "His truth is marching on!"  I begin my work for 2012, another year of ministry and chaplaincy with a certain amount of trepidation. The work will require real thought, energy and commitment. But I am encouraged by Tutu's example and reminder.  

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