Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Fighting the blues...

A sad old man...
I have had a hospital social worker wanting me to get involved with a man who is a hoarder, an alcoholic and has other mental health issues. He is only 72 years of age but already uses a walker. He has been evicted from his state house and moved to a smaller unit.  There have been truckloads of stuff moved from his house and section already, but there are truckloads left. The house smells, is filthy and there are just heaps of junk around. He has "dreams" or plans about what he would like to do with bits of stuff there, but they are unrealistic ideas now. He has strained relationships with his family and, though he is a likable fellow in many ways, his mind is muddled and it is difficult to have a coherent logical conversation with him. I paid three visits there this week. I was there with his hospital social worker on Wednesday.  She was keen for me to arrange some transport for some of his stuff to the new house. I tried in vain to tie him down to a time he would be ready.  I said I would call with my van on Friday afternoon and help him move his gear. When I arrived on Friday he had just arrived himself and did not have anything ready. He had a 1.5 litre bottle of sherry he had begun to work his way through and declared that he was going to spend the night at his old house. I told him I would be back on Saturday with the van at 10:30 a.m.  I went there on Saturday and he had some things ready, but he was in a sad state. He had obviously finished off the sherry, and I suspect some home brew over night. He confessed he had peed his pants three times during the night. (I think that was the stuff I slipped in on the kitchen floor! ) He could not find the shoes he had worn the day before, nor his glasses. I wandered around the house, clambering over things, suggesting things he might like to take and loading them into the van. There were a couple of guys in the yard preparing to move his old truck they wanted to get hold of. I eventually got him loaded into the van with a van load of gear and we went to his new house. I got talking with him and learned a little more about his past life. He once was a successful worker. He had obviously been skilled with his hands at things like welding and metal work. Yet his life is in such a mess. How did he get like this? What turned him? What mucked his life up? What could be done to make it better? He is a lonely man in some respects and seemed reluctant for me to leave.  Every bit of stuff I moved or tripped over had a story to it. There are sad people around.

An old blacksmith's vice I rescued from this man's stuff. It was likely to go to the scrap metal dealer, so he gave it to me. We discovered we have the same love and respect for tools of trade. This is like a piece of art for me. 
The end is nigh...
I received an email from the chairman of the elders team, a notice to go in the newsletter. It began;
"Congregational Meeting

The Elders Team has been working with the National Leadership Team of Christian Churches New Zealand on alternatives for the Ministry of the Church from 2014 onwards."  

It went on to inform of a congregational meeting to discuss future ministry. I am looking forward to retirement. Whichever way I look at it, it is time for me to move out of leadership in Church. I am no longer orthodox, I have lost confidence in "Church" and certainly recognise that I do not have the skills to bring about the change necessary. I will do "Jesus stuff" but outside of church structure. I am so looking forward to retirement that I can tell you that I have thirteen Sundays to go, twelve sermons and ninety three days to go. But this announcement drove it home to me that Church-wise I am past tense. There are no more relationships to build, no point in developing new aspects to Space2B or worship and its even doubtful that my Sunday sermons are being heard. Even though I look forward to it, it marks the end of a career, and that brings a certain sadness. I am aware too that the change of ministry will probably mean a complete change in direction for this church. Directions I have attempted will be discarded.
I guess thats why they call it the blues..
I have felt blue this afternoon. Some things hit me as I led this morning's service.

I used as an illustration an event that happened at an ecumenical youth conference I attended (with 1500 others) back in 1966. As I talked about that  it hit me that most of us who enthusiastically attended that and explored current issues and the faith, have left the Church. Those who left were the deeper, honest, young adult thinkers. On reflection, I think the Church never honestly faced the changing world views back then, and good young people left in droves, leaving more mundane people to lead the church.  There are examples of "successful" looking Church life drawing people into a subculture of old world views with modern music and contemporary style, but they will eventually not stand the test of our times.  The rest of us have carried on with business as usual as if we were still in the 50's. We have been reluctant, perhaps fearful or lazy, to think deeply and honestly about modern life and the faith and have lost touch with reality and it all began away back then.  I have been unsuccessful and feeling alone in playing "catch-up". Looking back I guess I have perhaps not been urgent enough, have always felt the need to compromise and sometimes I have been gutless, just to keep the peace. Now my time is up. This morning recalling this both saddened and angered me. 

In my preparation and presentation as I highlighted the principles I was expounding, I realised that the whole Space2B concept was an expression of these. It has been good, but it has not been allowed to work out as envisaged. It will probably cease to be and I am saddened about that. That is out of my hands and I must let go.

My blues I guess is a part of letting go, and moving on. Positively they are the birthpangs of a new stage in life with new adventures, different experiments and growth ahead. I guess we all can say, that there are some things about the past that could have been better. I hope I continue to journey, exploring the deeper things of life.

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Friday morning ... The need we don't see ... retirement ponderings.

The need we don't see
I have been talking to groups about the Night Shelter and I am becoming convinced that most people do not see the vulnerable people around town. I have a lot of contact, perhaps too much for balance, but I get the feeling among the people I talk to, they think everything is rosy in NZ society. I had a man, who had been a parliamentarian, say to me, "Why do we need a Night Shelter? There's all these social welfare programs looking after them?" I recall talking to a church group and discovered they were really not aware of the type of people we have at our drop-in centre. I find myself thinking, "Do these people go around with their eyes shut?" It isn't that, it is just the circles they live and mix in. I am happily unaware of needs in my neighbourhood, maybe even next door and certainly of desperate needs overseas. I recall talking with two Indian couples about the film "Slum Dog Millionaire". One couple was disgusted with the portrayal of the slums in India. "There are no slums like that!" they declared strongly. The other couple said just as strongly, "Yes there is!" They said to me privately later that the difference was in where each couple had lived.  "They would not have seen the slums if they had stayed in their type of neighbourhood." they commented. My firefighters attended a fire in a local boarding house, certainly not the worst in town. One man said to me, "It opened my eyes! Goodness gracious what an existence!" So in my talks about the Night Shelter now I spend time talking about the vulnerable people in our midst. This news video opened my eyes a little wider about the needs of children in some neighbourhoods. The friend who put this on face book asked the question, "How much did we spend on the Americas cup boat race?"
A friend responded to a flippant comment I made in an email about my retirement. We then got into an email conversation about my impending retirement while we were both working at our computers.  My friend told of one of his mates who went on a retreat to think about what he was going to do with the rest of his life. I responded with the comment below. I thought I would share it with you so I cut and paste it below....

I am not going to rock in a rocking chair... I have some restless dreams bubbling away... but I think I need to stop  awhile, catch up on some family things, and then let things evolve.

At the Rotary group the other night and at St John Ambulance - they are groups who are asking the question “How can we serve?” The Church sits and asks “How can we survive?” “How can we worship?” Bums on pews type thinking. – I think the “How can we serve?” question is more the way Jesus would have “his group” thinking. .... exploring a new form of “following Jesus” keeps emerging in my mind. ..linked with the Charter for Compassion... . and will not go away... In the “freedom” of retirement I may see where that leads???? There’s an Aussie guy who has written two books ... “Not religion but love” and “Christi-anarchy” who has an informal group of Jesus followers (different denominations) - they call themselves “The waiters Union” who look for ways to serve with and in the community.

I think the line in the hymn... “Make me a captive Lord, and then I shall be free.” is true...... you die as a person if you have no under-girding bigger meaning or purpose. ... or at least you allow yourself to get captured by trivia... so I will not be doing nothing or just living for myself...it is a self-defeating lifestyle.  Just thinking out loud.

I repeat - Just thinking out loud. 

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday meanderings...

Looking straight down Otago Harbour on my bike ride.
Bird visitors- a gull during my bike ride.
Wood Pigeon (kereru) visited while I was chopping wood.  (Playing with my new camera)

Church of Christ History
I have 14 Sundays left - really only 13 because we are soon to have some time off.  I decided to take four of my remaining Sundays to speak about the history and emphases of the "restoration movement" We are variously called, "Churches of Christ" "Disciples of Christ" or just "Christian Churches". Currently in NZ we are called "Christian Churches of New Zealand." Our roots are in the Campbell/Stone movement in America. I am enjoying researching the emphases, radical for their time and day, then trying to work out how the "Spirit" of those emphases should be worked out today. I am proud of my heritage, yet sad that in our NZ Churches the radical breadth of spirit and thinking has been forgotten. I will have to move out of Church of Christ community because my current Church is the only one in our city. For the first time in my life I will be out of this movement or denomination. I have appreciated the freedom of structure that has allowed me to explore different ways of expressing Church. In NZ there have been some leaders of stature, with depth and breadth, who have made a difference in the world. Recent trends tend to make it more like a sect.
On Sunday afternoon it seemed quite a calm day, so I decided to pump up the tires of my bike and go for the first ride since I had my mid-March TURP operation. I rode into town and around the harbour as far as the cycleway went. I then rode home again but by that time there was a head wind all the way home. It ended up being nearly a two and a half hour ride. I enjoyed it, but realised I was not as bike fit any more. The home journey was hard work, my posterior was as sore, and my calf muscles were nearly cramping up. More bike rides are necessary. 
Getting Old
I spent much of the day chainsawing branches I had stored, then splitting the wood. There are obvious things that happens when you get old. There of course are my prostate issues that I am working my way through. But here is another. I used to pride myself on how I could handle an axe. I could split firewood holding the wood in my hand and with several rapid movements of the tomahawk reduce the wood to kindling. I had no fear of hitting my fingers because I could land the axe head exactly where I aimed it. When splitting logs with a splitter or a bigger axe, I was able to land the head at exactly the spot I wanted. If I made a crack, my second stroke would hit exactly where the first hit. These days I have discovered that I cannot depend on such accuracy. What causes this? Am I weaker therefore unable to control the weight? Is it neurological?  Whatever it is, I notice it is happening. It's a bugger getting old.
Asking for money...
Tonight I have been the guest speaker at a Rotary Club. I was there to promote the Night Shelter cause. We are trying to raise $595,000, ideally $650,000.  I enjoyed the environment, I think I did a good job, but I hate asking for money.  I cannot remember when I last preached a sermon asking for money. It is not my style.  I wish I could earn this 650k myself, or win lotto and give the money.  But if we are going to reach the goal, I as chairman will need to do a lot of begging. It is a funny feeling, I have always been an independent sort of person. I need to learn to work in a team and accept that some people's purpose is to give, while my task is to ask.  

Thursday, September 19, 2013

Me in the media...

This was an article about the Night Shelter in the Otago Daily Times today....

The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust wants to ensure it is never homeless.
Trust chairman Dave Brown said he expected the demand for shelter beds this year to be double that of last year.
''Numbers have increased considerably.''
The trust wanted to buy the two buildings it rented in Lees St.
The landlord would sell, but the trust needed funds.
''We don't want to become homeless ourselves.''
The front building, the night shelter, had 12 beds and rooms in the rear building were rented to people needing ''transitional accommodation''.
''It gives them a chance to sort their lives out.''
The tenants' rent paid for some of the night shelter rent, but money was always needed to cover the shortfall.
''If we owned the place, we could become much more self sufficient.''
Trust member John Le Brun said the trust was reliant on grants and donations.
''There's no government funding. We get a small grant from the Dunedin City Council, which helps but it doesn't take much for things to change.''
Building ownership would secure the service, which had been in Dunedin for eight years.
The beds in the shelter were used 100 times each month for most months of the year, Mr Le Brun said..
''In a city the size of Dunedin, that is quite a staggering amount.''
The landlord would sell the houses for $595,000 and the trust wanted to raise $650,000.
The extra funds would develop more rooms in the transition house.
''This is a city issue. If anybody can help us, we will gratefully accept that help. Whether it is cheques, cash or ideas to move this forward,'' Mr Le Brun said.
Long-term plans for the shelter were to provide more accommodation for women.
''If we owned this, we would start to talk about what we could do for women because there is demand out there. We can take some [women], but we can't take everyone who turns up.''
Here is the link to it and a photograph.
I also was interviewed on the local TV.
It has been a busy day.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

"So let us not grow weary in doing what is right" ... yeah right!

"Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have.." (Hebrews 13)
The Apostle Paul in Galatians tells me "not to grow weary" and the Hebrews writer tells me "not to neglect to do good".  Sorry saintly authors, today I am sick of doing good. 
Two sad men... On Sunday after Church I had conversations with two different guys. One was struggling with drugs, alcohol and finances and says he desperately wanted to change. The other confided that he had attempted to take his own life! What do I do? How can I be more available to them?
"Can you speak at our club, about Christmas dinner and the stuff you do?" - I had a phone call like this today. Its on my day off, the day before we head away for a holiday in October - I'd rather not. "Well what about next year?" I will be retired! I hope not to be speaking anywhere! But it would be a great way to spread my concept of what the Church should be? I could publicize the Night Shelter cause? "Oh ... OK, I'll do it on that Monday in October." How to tell my wife?
The hospital staff have crazy expectations of the Night Shelter! One hospital person at midnight wanted to send a woman who had been talking suicide.  The manager said "no" but it has caused ripples. We are not resourced for that! Another person from another department wanted the Night Shelter Staff to do some social work during the day for one of their patients. They were critical when our manager said "no". We are working hard to provide emergency night time accommodation! We have to beg for every dollar we spend. All the members of the Trust Board are volunteers! We have so much stuff to do and there are so few of us! As chairman I feel weary. There is so much to do that I can't get around to doing it all. I feel like there is a cloud of unfinished Night Shelter stuff over my head but every other Trust Board member is very busy in their job too. I have yet another meeting to run tomorrow night.
Can you help provide this elderly man a washing machine, some lounge furniture and stuff! Again a social worker at the hospital has got it into her head that I am a freelance social worker who can work miracles. This guy is being forced to move and resettle.  We know him through our drop-in centre. She rang me and left a message when I had a couple of days off visiting my son last week. When I got in touch with her, she seemed to be saying, "Where were you when I needed you!" Like - "How dare you take time off." This man had been in to Space2B to seek my help about some other related things when I was not there. This afternoon I went to see him. I knocked on his door. I could hear the TV or radio going inside and a light was on. I went to his yard and looked at the thing he was concerned about, measured it and checked it out. I went back to his door three times and knocked. The door bell did not ring. I suspect, from my knowledge of his habits, he was drunk. I gave up, jumped in my van and reversed out his drive glancing at his door in case he belatedly came out.... CRUNCH! I wiped out a rear vision mirror on a lamp post! Aaagh! Too distracted by all this stuff running through my mind.
"Could you take on a chaplaincy? You had it before but its reduced hours now.. they already know you?" But I am trying to lighten my load! But I probably am the right fit? It would help out Workplace Support? But... do I want more?
"Could you please..?" "Have you got....?" "Would we be able to...?"  "Can I book the hall for...?" These sorts of statements seem to be coming thick and fast. I feel like I am just keeping my head above water. I want to scream, "But I have health problems and uncertainties! Get off my back!" 
I went to my Doctor today. He brought up the hospital's MRI report on the computer and was kind enough to turn his screen around and go through it with me. I have a "1.4cm area of T2 ".. a "capsule" of uncertain tissue... if it is "carcinoma" it is in the very early stages. They recommend an "ultra-sound guided biopsy." "When are they seeing you?" my Doctor asked after he had explained it all. "I do not know?" I replied. "Hope it is soon." he commented. It has been distracting all day having seen the word similar to "carcinoma" on a report about parts of my body! That happens to other people. I have hopes and vague plans for next year, but this uncertainty hangs over them.
I feel responsible, I ought to do the right thing. I feel like I cannot say "no". I lie awake at night stewing about it. But I feel weighed down almost to the point of stagnation by the "to do list" always before me. 

"Hey, St Paul," I am "weary of doing what is right."  I feel like I want to "neglect to do the good" and jump off the merry-go-round for a break! 102 days to go till retirement!

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The pain that thrills.

The track that keeps going up.

Grahams Bush completed... About to begin the Organ Pipe track.
A welcome cup of tea at the Cairn on the summit of "my" mountain.

I am lying on my bed with sore feet, muscles on the verge of cramping, aching knees and tender hips. (It reminds me of half marathon days) But I am wrapped! During September at least my Sunday afternoon walks are alone so I am able to extend my distance and choose different places. Today I went up "my" Mount Cargill, but instead of driving up to the Organ Pipe track as I would normally do, I walked up the Graham's Bush track from Sawyers Bay then joined my familiar Organ Pipe Track to the top. Mt Cargill is 676 Metres High. I think I ascended up 650 Metres from where I started at near sea level. I had been up the Grahams Bush track a few times years ago. I recall taking my dog up once and at a certain point at the foot of yet another set of stairs he sat down and needed to be goaded into continuing. I had forgotten how steep it was. There is a heap of zig zags leading up to the top of the track. (at around 300 Metres)  Today when I reached the top of the Grahams bush track I was sweating profusely and my legs just wanted to stop.  I nearly decided to turn back then, but gritted my teeth and embarked on the steep first part to the Organ Pipe track. I pushed myself to keep going, talking to myself to help motivate me. The easy sloping parts I could handle, but the steep steps that you encounter from time to time took all my discipline to keep going. With a sigh of relief I climbed to the top and dug in my bag to pull out refreshments. I had made a cup of tea in a thermos so felt quite decadent sitting drinking tea in the sun with dramatic views all around. Up and down took me 3 hours 40 minutes. (A walking guide suggests 3hrs return for just the Grahams Bush track so I did well to do both in that time) I really pushed myself to be completed by dark. It is strange how when you extend yourself and need to draw on inner reserves just to keep going, there is something exhilarating about it. You are in pain but you know you have done well. You have been in your own personal battle, and you have won. Life feels good. 

About half way up the Organ Pipe track I met some young adults coming down. I must have looked shot, sweating profusely and probably red faced. A young woman patronisingly said to me, "Not long to go now, keep going." I wanted to yell "Yes there is a long way to go, stop telling lies." More than that and I felt like I wanted to justify my appearance by telling her that I had walked all the way from Sawyers Bay.. not just from where they had parked their car. I did not get the opportunity but I got to thinking about that. In life we meet people and sometimes judge them harshly. But we really don't know where they have come from. If we knew their journey in life we might understand better their reactions.
Tomorrow's day off
I have to purchase a new battery for my van. All my tests suggest the battery is not putting out the correct voltage. I had hoped to postpone buying a new one until winter next year. I also have an appointment at the hospital with the "Continence Clinic". It sounds like I am an old man peeing my pants. It has to do with my plumbing system and is a routine check up. It is embarrassing though, my pride will take a hit. Some medical woman will be asking personal and intimate questions. After that I think I will be clearing a drain for a friend. 

My personal assessment is that I did a good imaginative job leading this morning's worship. I have enjoyed extending myself physically this afternoon. I think I will sleep well tonight.

Friday, September 13, 2013

A "spot" that needs investigating.

Theodore my cute grandson. 
Over four weeks ago I had an MRI scan. On Wednesday after our visit to Christchurch I rang the hospital Urology Department to see if there were results. They told me to ring my GP. I phoned the medical centre and a nurse got into the information on the hospital computers. She looked at it and said she would get a doctor to explain it then phone me back. I eventually received a phone call from a nurse giving me a medical explanation. As far as I could understand, most of my prostate enlargement looks like "just" benign enlargement. (There was a fancy medical term) There is, however, a spot or area that they are unsure about and they are contemplating an ultrasound guided biopsy of this. I was disappointed because I had thought that the MRI would give a definitive statement on whether or not I had cancer. I am left with another period of feeling uncertain. 
My sensitivity is heightened because I visited a friend who has terminal cancer that began as prostate cancer. I had not seen him for two weeks and I was disappointed because, in spite of some treatment his symptoms had deteriorated in just two weeks. 
This morning I was doing things to hopefully improve the starting and running of my van.  While I was working I was thinking about my friend (My form of prayer) and also about my predicament. I finished up by putting some tools away in my workshop. I became aware that I have built up a very handy collection of tools because I have always said, "Tools are an investment." Many of my tools have paid for themselves several times over, but others await more free time to be fully utilised. As I came out of the workshop I wistfully said to my wife, "I hope I live long enough in retirement to really enjoy my tools?"  
I am sure I will be fine, I have had enough doctors poking and prodding in recent times. The funny thing is that at this stage of life I do have a sense of completeness. I have had a happy family life and my children are off my hands and doing well.  I have enjoyed friendships and related to a great variety of people.  I have made a difference through my career, and while there have been frustrations, it has caused me to grow in my abilities, in confidence and as a person. I have had a life full of rich and varied experiences which I have enjoyed. So if I died tomorrow I could still look back and say, "I have had a very fortunate life." I could not complain.  But... I still have creative energy itching to express itself. I will appreciate a few more years of healthy living to explore the uncharted territory of "free time".
My recent birthday present I hope to enjoy more fully.
An engraver/shaper thingy yet to be enjoyed - I want to try bone carving.
This electric meter has had 35 years of use, and was used again this morning. 

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Three traumatic experiences.

The new temporary "cardboard" Christchurch Cathedral
My wife had to take this photo- I had fled.
The old Christchurch Cathedral - Should it be rebuilt?
Trauma number 1... I turned 65!
Today I received my first pension. (In NZ we can still earn and get a pension.) Last Friday I turned 65. I still look in the mirror and wonder how I got to be that old? Where did the years go? I am at the end of my career? All sorts of nostalgia about the journey runs through my mind. The frustration of "dreams unfinished" is very real. There is also a certain sense of satisfaction - "I did it my way" to the best of my understanding and ability in the course of the journey. I know I have made a difference, even though I dreamed of more.  I had planned the birthday to go quietly, but there were lovely expressions of friendship on the day. Two women who are part of the Church brought extra food to the Church and those attending our lunch time Space2B enjoyed a mini party. In the evening at the drop-in centre there was a spontaneous and enthusiastic rendition of the "Happy Birthday" song by the 40 - 50 guests when one man announced "Pastor Dave has a birthday today!" The gift from the family had me choosing between a reconstituted iphone or a flash camera. I chose a camera because I was not sure that when I am just on the pension I could justify the regular expense of using an iphone. Turning 65 is a traumatic milestone.  In 112 days, for better or for worse, I will end my career as a minister. 
Trauma Number 2... Christchurch revisited.
On Sunday after Church we drove to Christchurch (361 Kms.)  to visit my son, daughter-in-law and grandson. We stayed for two nights. Three and a half years ago Christchurch had a big and devastating earthquake. Christchurch is still a city in a mess. Christchurch streets are now incredibly bumpy, though worse in some areas than others. Everywhere there are road works, bridge repairs, traffic cones and road signs. There are empty sections filled with rubble where once houses and buildings stood. There are lovely looking homes with broken windows waiting to be demolished. Big buildings in the CBD are still being demolished. There are Churches standing with steeples missing and walls partially collapsed. Some places of the city look like a third world country. Outside our guest house there was a truck still needing to pump out broken sewerage drains. In the days and weeks immediately after the big earthquake I visited the city twice. On the first visit I spent time in the CBD talking with emergency workers and those involved in civil defense work.  A few weeks later I spent time knocking on doors checking on the needs of residents.  One of the areas I did door knocking in was the area we stayed in over the last couple of nights. At the time I was deeply moved and saddened by the whole experience. This visit somehow the messed up state of Christchurch brought all that sadness back. I felt a certain degree of being re-traumatised by wandering the streets again. I do feel for the people of Christchurch.
Trauma number 3... We've so missed the point.
This trauma experience is a result of a combination of the above two experiences. I also had spent time around shops and had looked with sadness at the number of unemployed people wandering the shops, bars and streets, living messed up lives a long way short of their potential. As a 65 year old I am feeling the frustration of dreams unfinished and the accumulated burnout of trying to fit into the traditional Church ministry. At this stage of my life my questions about Church priorities come to the surface. In Christchurch there is lively discussion about the Christchurch Cathedral. It was an iconic building in the central square of the city. It was wrecked in the earthquake. (Along with a number of other old church buildings) There has been controversy about whether it should be rebuilt. A "temporary" structurally innovative "cardboard" Cathedral has been erected nearby. We visited the old one in ruins and the new one. I looked at another wrecked church where three men had been killed. When the big February earthquake hit, they were in the building removing the organ after a previous earthquake had damaged the building! In Dunedin our Church building has been assessed by an engineer and lots of work is needed before it comes up to standard. All these things were buzzing within me. I took a photo of the outside of the old cathedral and thought of the controversy. I also photographed the new one from the outside. It was when I walked into the new one that I was traumatised. It is a nice neat looking Anglican Church building with rows of seats facing an alter, pulpit and the worship centre of a normal cathedral.  As I looked at this whole set up I felt a deeply sad feeling in my gut. (it was a physical feeling of repulsion) I wanted to scream, "This is all wrong!"  I had to flee from the building! "Why?" I asked myself, "why such a strong reaction? Why feel so repulsed?" 
Here is what I fathomed out... and I have been stewing on this while driving back to Dunedin. It is all wrong because we have the wrong priorities. The Church (whatever denomination, whatever it's "breed" - liberal, happy clappy, conservative etc. ) sees as its priority this worship experience. You sit in rows and worship. Some do it formally with liturgy, others with clapping, hand raising etc etc. or other expressions of worship. The main chunk of money invested by any church is to have a building for this purpose, to have staff who lead and or encourage people to come to this worship. A Church is seen as successful if big numbers come to this regularly.  My issue is not so much with the content of worship - whatever your preference.  My issue is that it is given top priority. Now I have studied the life of Jesus. I have sought to be open to his "spirit" and direction.  I do not believe that he set out to found a new religion. He certainly, as an active Jew, encouraged a group of followers of his way of "the Kingdom", of love and authenticity. But I have become increasingly convinced that he would not be wanting his followers to be having as their main expression of who they are and their main priority in their investment of resources, people singing songs to him, about him, reciting creeds and encouraging this sort of worship focus. Jesus, I believe would have his disciples, or followers have as their main focus service; expressions of love to others; seeking justice and expressing inclusiveness, and acceptance. People supporting other people in the journey of life would be his focus. His "gathering" would be a gathering of people adopting a servant lifestyle individually and in their groups.   In our Churches service happens either by a few enthusiastic eccentrics or through bureaucratic agencies depending on public money doing it by "proxy" maybe in the name of the Church, but not necessarily with the values and style of Jesus. The main focus is "worship" and it just is not true to Jesus! Jesus' priorities would be different. His emphases would not be on building groups of inward thinking people, escaping into religiosity and religious practices.  Nor would it be on people sitting around discussing theology.  I have believed this for a long time but have tried to fit into traditional church structures endeavouring to lift up "service" as the focus.  In the foyer of the new Cathedral I felt repulsed because lots of things came together.  Several things "hit" me. 

  • We have so misrepresented Jesus! Most Churches are a big distortion! 
  • There are so few challenging the distortion! Even after an earthquake, as Churches reshape they are continuing with the distortion. 
  • My own Church thinking about its future will in all probability cease the "serving" ministries we have, and focus on the worship. In thinking through the building issue, the focus will be on worship. In thinking through who to have to replace me, the thinking will be on worship.
  • I have come to the end of my career and I have been unsuccessful in changing the focus in any of my ministries. 
  • Even new expressions of theological thinking, though I like them, neglect the servanthood emphasis which is so much a part of who Jesus was. 
All these things and more "hit" me in that cathedral. As nice as it was, I saw its erection as an expression of all that is wrong with the Church in general and I felt repulsed.   It was a taumatic experience that came because I am nearing retirement, I was in a city messed up by an earthquake and in a new Church "worship" centre.  Jesus is crying, "Look what they done to my song!"  I have few regrets about being a Church Minister. I tried to make a difference and in some small way I have. So it is not the feeling of wasting my life catching up on me. It is more a feeling of despair for the future reality of the Church - All I see is groups of people "spiritually masturbating" every Sunday, still "islands of irrelevance in a sea of despair" - misrepresenting the one they sing about. That is an extreme statement. There will be those questioning, some churches serving and individuals expressing servanthood, but in general there looks to be no great change toward the ways and priorities of Jesus. I feel sad about that. Personally I feel positive about my impending retirement. I look forward to new and different adventures as JC's helper.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Father's Day bits and pieces..

A brave young man...
Last Saturday I helped hang a new TV at Phoenix Lodge. There I met a young man who I warmed to immediately. He came into the room where we were working to make breakfast and seemed at first evasive. But then he stopped and chatted. He told us about the brain tumor he had and the operation he had gone through to remove it. He showed us the scars, running right from his ear down to his neck. The other side of his face was twisted and he had an eye that would not shut that he had to keep blinking with his hand.  I expressed my sadness at his predicament and said, "It must be tough?" "No" he said, "I'm just happy to be alive! I was expecting to be dead." Then he told us of his attempts to get a job and his dreams for the future. He was so positive when he had every reason to be otherwise. Life was tough for him but he seemed to want to make it better. I was so impressed, I wished I knew ways I could help him. I hope he does not get knocked back by the harsh economic realities out there.
"Privileged" - A nice surprise.
Today my wife got handed an envelope by a thoughtful lady in our congregation. It was addressed to both of us. The letter inside started; "I decided not to wait until you retire to say a huge 'thank you' for the privilege of being in your congregation." The rest of the two page letter went on to rave about how good our ministry is and what it has meant to her. It was a big surprise.  I thought I did not do the best job this morning so I felt a bit guilty receiving this today. She is a person who does not waste praise, a woman with definite views but someone who thinks deeply about life. A letter from such a person means a lot. I have often looked at her while I have been preaching and thought, "Oh she won't like this." But I guess I don't know everything. I am sure she disagrees with me on some things, but she is big hearted enough to see past my flaws.

Heading up Flagstaff- the little protrusion on the skyline is the summit.
On the track toward Swampy Summit - if you look closely on the skyline you can see a tower - the summit I was hoping to reach.

Fathers' Day treat.
Today I went for a big walk in the hills above Dunedin. I headed up the hill called Flagstaff intending to go over it and onto Swampy Summit. As I was puffing my way up the track I saw this grey haired "elderly" man in a hat coming down with two walking sticks. I thought to myself, "Isn't it good that he is still exercising at his age." As we got closer suddenly this man called, "David Brown, it's good to see you." I had known him since we were teenagers together, he would be only two years older than me! He attended the last funeral I led and we had chatted just before the ceremony.  A day or so after I received a beautiful card from him commending me on leading a great funeral and wishing me all the best for my MRI scan. Now on the track we chatted away for quite some time. I know a lot of people but friendly conversation in which I am not in a ministerial/chaplaincy role does not happen that often, so I enjoyed talking for some time. We said our goodbyes and while I enjoyed the chat, I was concerned because I knew it meant I would have to rush to get to Swampy Summit and back before dark. I walked over Flagstaff and I was about ten minutes from the top of Swampy Summit when I decided to play it safe and turn back. I think it was the right decision though I hated it at the time - the sun went down just before I reached the car park.  We are so fortunate in Dunedin. With a few minutes driving we can walk amongst bush, tussock and high hills catching breathtaking views. I enjoyed my wander today amongst the tussock, above the clouds and among the birds. My wife told me it was my Fathers Day present.