Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The end is nigh!

A building project last Monday. Enjoyed doing it so much.

Early morning sun shining on our back yard.
The end of the year seems to be speeding toward me, and with it my retirement from active Church ministry after about forty years. I am looking forward to getting out because I no longer easily fit.  
Drop-in centre
We have been running a Friday night drop-in centre at the Church for nearly eighteen years... we began in 1995.  We plan to have our final night there on December 13th so there are only 3 nights of drop-in centre left. On Friday evening we had about 50 people through. (We probably have some sort of regular contact with about 120 people) Some, especially those who have been coming a long time, were getting all nostalgic. Others were all worried because it is really uncertain, and not likely that it will open again after I retire.  A man who comes as a carer or minder for one of our clients commented that the drop-in centre was very important to these people. "Couldn't something be done to ensure it stayed open?" He began to think about a multi-agency group continuing the effort. I have to walk away, it would frustrate me too much to still be linked to the Church in any way after I have retired. It will no longer be my scene. It will be sad, but I have no doubt that people will cope and move on.
$4.17 Million.... really?
There was a note in the newspaper the other day that the CEO of a major bank got a 14% pay rise! He needed it because now his pay is a paltry $4.17 million per year! Other workers I know have had a 1-2% pay rise and they get an eightieth of what he earns, or in some cases less than that. Sorry that is obscene! I think I will be changing banks.
Sermon series....
I am working my way through my last seven sermons in a series called "Concluding considerations."
The first was on "The Future" Here is my outline...
1. What to expect...

  • Incredible advances in technology... increased production but fewer basic jobs.
  • Medical science will be able to work wonders but that will raise ethical questions.
  • There will be a "knowledge explosion" with easy access to all sorts of information.
  • It will be a cosmopolitan world with people traveling and living in a variety of countries. Our communities will increasingly involve a greater variety of ethnicities and cultures.
  • Muslim / West tensions will continue and we will have to find peaceful ways to build bridges.
  • There will be an increasing gap between rich and poor within our communities. How do we find a place of dignity and worth for jobless people in our communities? There will be an increasing gap between rich and poor nations.
  • We will have to transition from an oil based lifestyle to other forms of energy. Oil is running out and getting difficult and expensive to harvest.
  • Climate change and sustainability issues will have to be faced.
  • We in the west suffer from a loss of meaning and spirituality connection.
  • The speed of change will make us feel insecure.
2. The Church's reaction...
 We can easily suffer from "Future Shock" and long for the "Old Time Religion." In all the major religions there has been a resurgent conservative/ fundamentalist element. ... BUT.. ultimately these do not last the test of time and can be dangerous, adding to the problems.
3. Positive steps toward relevant Church communities
(i) An intelligent, informed, knowledgable and thought out faith that faces reality rationally.
(ii) A servant Church earning its credibility by serving people in the community.
(iii) A flexible, adaptable Church willing to change and keep on changing.
4. God will be there.
For me God is a movement bubbling away amongst us bringing justice, freedom,wholeness, love and abundant life. This current of life has been there enhancing life for centuries, and whatever else we say about the future, "he" will be there too.

Today's sermon was on "If I started a new Church..."
I imagined that I was a Martin Luther, a Wesley, or William Booth and expressed just three emphases my imaginary church would hold.
1. It would focus on Jesus
The Christian religion carries with it a whole lot of excess baggage which gives it a bad reputation. The essence of being Christian is following Jesus, his "spirit", values and way. He would be the focus, not dogma about him, nor institution, nor peripheral religious side lines. This imaginary Church would simply call themselves "followers" or "Followers of Jesus."
2. It would be action/service orientated, rather than worship oriented. 
I find myself questioning the worship focus of the church. We spend untold resources on our Sunday worship in terms of salary, buildings and equipment. A church is deemed a success if it has crowds at worship. A minister is classed as "good" if he is a good worship leader. BUT..... in all the Gospels Jesus mentions worship only once! If it was meant to be the priority we make of it, surely it would have featured more highly in his teaching? Instead he calls his followers to be servants, to be salt and light in the world. By example and teaching he wants us to be reaching out in loving service to others. It would seem to me that a Church (or gathering) which is truly following Jesus would see this as the focus of their being.  As an example of the distortion I see in current Church life let's look at the Order of St John. It serves the community through - Ambulance service, community volunteers at events, medical alarms, a caring caller service, youth groups, Friends of the Emergency Department, hosts at the hospital, and support in the oncology department. It also has its rituals, administration and ceremonies. If St John decided that it would put all its recourses into just "rituals and ceremonies" we would say it has forgotten its purpose and is wasting its time. We would see it as denying its essential identity. It may be a bit of an overstatement, but that is what the Church has done!  It began as followers of the one who came to serve, who sent them out to serve. But by and large, it has stopped being a source of loving service, and spends all of its resources and energy on worship, administration and institution as ends in themselves. It has forgotten the "spirit" of the one it purports to follow! 
3. It would be inclusive.
Jesus got into trouble because of his inclusive attitudes toward people. People the elite and religious leaders saw as quite unfit he would affirm as included in the people of God. My imaginary Church would follow that lead. It would be open to other spiritualities. As I often say in my funeral service; "God, or the Great Spirit is bigger than our various religious interpretations." 
4. It would seek to be a catalyst in the community.
It would give its support, efforts and resources to working alongside and with other community based "life enhancing" groups. Too often the Church has stood aloof from the community thinking it is the only one with the truth about life. The "Current of life" is bigger than the Church, and many in the community seek to enhance life with a passion... "my" church would celebrate and support that. Groups like Fair trade, Sustainability efforts and Night Shelter for example, would be supported.

I have five sermons left. Watch this space. 
I came across a paragraph that could easily describe my journey over the last thirty years...

Rev. Peter Laarman writes; "What I have discovered about the substance of my faith in this last third of my life is that all else pales next to the figure of Jesus. And the more compelling Jesus becomes, the more I feel the urgency of becoming a "doer of the word" and not a mere hearer - or, often in my case, a mere preacher. This is the primary question: why do I - why do so many of us - cry "Lord! Lord!" with complete ease and yet fall so short of radical discipleship?"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"What's been happening?"

Gorgeous grand daughter Edith off to feed the hens.

Handsome grandson, Theo.
I caught this fish at Kaka point on a family holiday - a long time ago!
"What's bin happenin'?"
is often the question asked of me when I walk into a lounge at a fire station. I ask a similar question of them. Here are a couple of reflections on what's been happening in my life this week.
I have gorgeous grandchildren!
Well, what can I say, don't you agree?
Wish I was there...
I have another grandchild due to arrive this week - in Edinburgh! - On the other side of the world! I was talking to my son on the phone and enjoyed catching up on the things he was doing in their recently purchased house. (I am so pleased all my kids seem happy to chat with their eccentric old dad - they are very forgiving!) Somehow as he talked about the expected arrival Edinburgh seemed a long long way away! I would love to be there to give support! We plan on being there mid year next year, but this week that seems to be an eternity away!
We have booked a house in the country...
Not long after Christmas we are planning to go away to a luxurious looking house near Kaka point with our oldest son, his wife and child. Kaka point has childhood memories for me. We had a great holiday there when I was a boy. I look forward to this break, but till then it will be head down, bum up until retirement date on 29th December. I have six Sunday services to go and of course our Community Christmas day dinner!
Revitalising run...
This afternoon my friend and I had the briefest of runs. It was far enough though to begin to enjoy it, and a bit further than we had run the time before. It is strange. Before our jog I felt tired, emotionally exhausted and every bit like an elderly man fit for the scrap heap. The start of the run felt hard and my chest was heaving. But as we walked down the hill and back to the cars I felt exhilarated and when I got home I went about, full of new energy, preparing for a project I am tackling tomorrow. A run lifts your spirits, blows out your lungs and generally is a great pick-me-up. I really enjoyed its impact!  Note to self, "I must do more!"

In Cassius Clay/ Mohammed Ali days I enjoyed watching boxing.  Now I hate the sport. There was a much publicised boxing tournament in the North Island city of Hamilton the other night. The NZ star did not win the main fight of the night and has decided to retire. - good on him.  But in another fight Daniel MacKinnon a professional boxer, had to be carted off to hospital with a bleed in his brain. A photo of his pulverised face looks gross! He was in a serious condition but has had surgery which seems to have eased the situation. I have known and shared with three men who were boxers in their younger days, who in later life were badly impacted by their brain injuries. Slurred speech, unsteady gait, tiring easily, lack of concentration, moodiness and in one case mental health issues were all the result of this sport. Is it really a sport that fits into our world today? Should it go the way of the gladiatorial games? How could I justify enjoying watching a sport that intentionally tries to injure somebody? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Seven sermon series to see me out.

"You can't retire!"
Today just after lunch I went to the Dunedin City Council buildings to take part in a new immigrants orientation tour.  We used to do these at the Church in Space2B, but they have chosen to do them in the Civic centre. Working with the settlement support worker at the City Council these monthly programs began in our church nearly four years ago. When I went there today she came up and sat beside me before the program started to tell me what parts she wanted me to look after. I then thought that I should tell her that I will be finishing my role as minister at the end of the year and I was uncertain if Space2B will continue. "I am retiring." I said. She looked shocked! "You can't retire!" she responded. - "Yes the time has come." "But ... you can't retire - you have always been there!"  I have had that sort of comment regularly. 
On Tuesday I was visiting a fire station and got talking about my impending retirement. I commented that people kept asking "What are you going to do?" and that I often felt like responding, "Mind your own business!" They said, "Fair enough." but then one added with a cheeky grin on his face, "But... what are you going to do? You can tell us!" After a few minutes this man's wife arrived and joined the conversation. (I had married them a few years ago.)  They informed her that I was retiring.  Immediately she asked, "What are you going to do?" and sniggers went around the room. That is the most common question. It is asked in a way that says, "Why the hell are you retiring? What else have you got in life but ministry?" 
It will be interesting when I do retire. I guess I will find out how much of my identity is wrapped up in being a minister. After a usual holiday period when it sinks in that I am not going back to the office, not preparing a service or not feeling responsible for people, will I feel empty? I wondered with my supervisor today how I will cope with not having something to create each week? While I look forward to not "preaching", there is something in the creative exercise of designing a service. I can give expression to myself, my thoughts and passions through each Sunday's service. How will I express myself when that finishes? 
Concluding considerations
I was in the shower the other day thinking of the weeks ahead leading to Christmas. I often find myself not excited about preaching the readings that come up in Advent (the end times stuff) or the Christmas stories. (theology in narrative form)  As I soaped myself up inspiration hit me. I could do a concluding series. There are seven Sundays left and seven topics emerged into my brain. I can even tie some into the Christmas stories. Here are the topics that emerged....
November 17th   Faith for the future.
November 24th    If I started a new Church.
December 1st…..     Why I am still a follower.
December 8th….      Rethinking "progress". (Mary's song)
December 15th….    Tribal religion verses the Kingdom. (The wise men)
December 22nd….   “Down to earth”. (Birth stories)
December 29th    Walking with the sacred.

Seven final sermons...wow.... I started preaching regularly in 1972, so there have been quite a number over the years. Wait and see how these final ones go. What can they do? Sack me? 
They have decided to have a farewell "do" on the 21st... what am I going to say then?

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Rant

Some positive pics before my rant.
My gorgeous Christchurch grandson Theo at 9 months. 
Lovely shrub in a local garden - on a recent walk. 
A great isolated log cabin retreat where I conducted a wedding last Saturday.
Real Low lifes!
Many in NZ are infuriated with a group of young men who have been named "Roast Busters". These young men get underage girls drunk, have sex with them and then boast about it and shame them on social media. They say, "You want this too. This is your best fantasy. We're doing everything you ever dreamed of doing but didn't  ..."  People are angry also because the police knew about the boasting but did not take any action.  Political commentator, Chris Trotter wrote an article about it asking the question, "How has New Zealand raised such sons?" In the article he says, "Do New Zealand's fathers teach their sons that before anybody is male or female; black or white; gay or straight; beautiful or ugly, they are first and always a human being?" He is angry and says that "The Roast Busters revelations make it very clear that our secondary schools' sex education syllabus is in need of urgent revision." I want to make a few angry observations of my own.
First these guys are despicable, especially since they prey on under age girls. But such abuse of women is widespread. In the late 1960's I was a plumbing apprentice on a big building site. We had working with us a bunch of Australian plumbers imported for the job, and of course there were a number of single kiwi's on site also.  I was then shocked because after nearly every weekend young men would boast about their sexual exploits and most often it involved getting a woman drunk enough to have sex with her. They laughed about their date mumbling in a drunken stupor while they "performed."  Since then I have encountered the same sort of actions and attitudes again and again involving people at all "levels" of society. There are people amongst professionals, teenagers, trades people and intellectuals who play this sort of game. I have come across threats by males to expose the women involved, from people much older than these teenagers reported in the media. Now I admit in the sexual field I am not one to have "notches on my belt" so people might say that I am "old fashioned" or out of date with the new freedoms. But this is not freedom it is abuse! It is rape in my book and about as low as you can go! 
Second I cannot understand it! I cannot understand how anybody can get any joy out of it? I have the same trouble understanding using a prostitute? How can I get joy out of having somebody have sex with me because she is paid to? How can anybody find any sense of manhood or self esteem when you have to get a woman drunk in order for her to have sex with you? I cannot imagine the indignity and emptiness it must be like for the man having sex with a woman in a stupor?  How can you feel like a "man" of some worth when you are doing such things? For goodness sake, go and have a wank (masturbate) if you need to "get off" that badly!  That is all you are doing, except you're using somebody else's body instead of your hand..without true consent... and that is low. You do yourself and the woman untold harm by such behaviour! Your view of yourself, humanity and women must be pretty low and twisted!  The real joys of truly "making love" is the affirmation that comes from the other through intentional physical touch and intimacy - she (he) wants to express her love toward you!  It is also found in the experience of giving physical joy and affirmation to the other.  It is the complete opposite of "getting it off".  The "Roast Busters" and people like them are lower than animals! They miss the whole point and joy of human sexuality! 
Thirdly it is a much bigger issue than sex education! We in the modern west have often looked down on civilisations where human life is cheap. We have looked at societies in history and said of them that "human life did not mean much then." Well this is the issue here. We do not value what it means to be a human being! We treat ourselves and others with little dignity. Once in New Zealand (about forty years ago) there were only about a maximum of five murders in a year, and when they happened they shocked the nation. Now they happen regularly and we get used to hearing about them. Once in New Zealand our police were very safe unarmed. Now they fear for their lives, and our police are often beaten. Our streets are often places of drunken violence on Friday and Saturday nights. Just recently there have been reports of elderly people beaten in their homes.   It is not just a matter of a distorted view of women or sexuality. It is a symptom of a low view of, or value put on human life, our own and others'.   We have no deep sense of meaning and dignity so our actions toward others are low and cheap. Somehow we are not instilling in people a high view of what it means to be human. We are not just animals following instincts. 
Finally it is also often as a result of another symptom of a dysfunctional view of life - the abuse of alcohol.  Again and again people feel that to have a good time they need to get "pissed."  On TV I saw this program about binge drinking and the reporter asked a group of young women why they were "preloading" - getting in a lot of drinks at home before they head out to the night clubs. Their answer was so that when they get to the night clubs they "could be more uninhibited, and let their hair down."  They said that they felt unable to mix confidently unless they had a few drinks on board. It is a sad reflection on our society.  (This is true, perhaps even more so, of men too.)  It is a bit sad that we have to self-medicate to enable us to have the confidence to mix and have a good time. We travelled back from our son's place on Waiheke Island recently by ferry and then by plane. On both modes of transport we sat by two different pairs of young men who happened to be conversing about parties they had attended recently, and whose conversation we could not help but overhear.  The first pair on the ferry were young professionals I would estimate to be in their thirties. The pair on the plane were 21 year olds, one a chef the other a university student. They told how they had drunk until they vomited! One said he had ended up comatose. A good time had by all - yeah right?   I have a wine or two or a couple of beers, but why do we need to get intoxicated to have a good time? We have got it wrong and it is like an epidemic causing untold harm in our communities.  The expectation is that a party needs untold supplies of alcohol to be a success, but that can be so dangerous for the vulnerable.

That's my rant. We are justifiably angry at the "Roast Busters". They are "low lifes" but they are, in my view, a symptom of deeper issues facing us in our society.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I saw this on a panel for sale at our favourite hardware store. I loved it... For better or worse, it is so often "me".


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Scrapbook clippings from my week.

Two helpful books
Rotary Clubs
I have been doing the circuit of speaking at a variety of Rotary Clubs. I am impressed by the sort of stuff these clubs do in their communities. They seem to have a lot of little projects going on. They seem to volunteer readily for tasks and always there is warmth of fellowship. I was mentioning this to a friend the other day. I finished by saying, "Wouldn't it be great to have a church like that?" His response was to chuckle and say, "Church is different. When people join a Rotary club they know they are joining a service organisation. They already have that interest." I wanted to respond but chose not to continue the theme. But here is what I thought. - When we get involved in the Church we are following Jesus. Jesus was a servant and went about his community serving people. He called his disciples to be servants. When asked about the most important thing in life he told the story of "The Good Samaritan" and then said, "Go and do likewise." He called his followers to be "salt" and "light" in the community. I could go on, but it would seem to me that the Church which is following Jesus should be the ultimate service club and if we are Jesus' followers we would expect to be servants! 
Warmth at the brewery
During the week I went to my chaplaincy at the brewery. It was my first visit following the funeral of my friend who was from the brewery. I have felt the brewery as tough going because of all the changes taking place there. The other day, from my first "hello" I felt a certain warmth and belonging. It may have been because of my efforts at the funeral, but I felt really welcome there. I was intrigued. They have a new brew floor with the latest brewing technology. Two guys who will be working there insisted that they show me around. They were proud, pleased and excited as they showed me the processes in each part. I really appreciated it. I love my job sometimes.
Me the mechanic... 
A few months ago we purchased a 1996 Nissan diesel van. It has been very handy, but it has been difficult to start. I have not had the opportunity to explore why, but have been afraid that it could be very expensive.  We have not been using it recently because its Warrant of Fitness expired. In NZ vehicles have to be examined for a WOF every six months. We had booked it in to go to a garage on Friday morning to get examined. Last Sunday it started, but on Friday it just refused to start!  We had to cancel our date at the garage. On Saturday morning I decided I would take the time to look into the problem. I hunted out a book I purchased at a second hand store years ago, called "Diesel Repair Manual" and I read up appropriate sections. I had thought it could be a glow plug problem. The book said that if one glow plug (of four) was not working your vehicle probably would not start on cold days. It also gave information about testing the glow plugs. So armed with my tools, my home made tester and my "brilliant" mechanical knowledge, I tested the glow plugs. Three out of the four were not working! It is a wonder it started at all! We went to town and purchased four new glow plugs and returned home and put them in. Gingerly I turned the key. I waited until the glow light went off, then turned the key further to start the motor. The motor immediately fired into life! I have tried it several times since and it starts instantaneously.  I have fixed our starting problem! The van is booked for a WOF check tomorrow.... but it is so good to have such mechanical success! To get a mechanic to do that would have cost me heaps!  There is something nice about fixing things, about mechanical cause-and-effect things that you can reason through and problem solve with. I would have enjoyed being a mechanic.
"The Sins of Scripture"
I have just completed reading a good book by Bishop John Shelby Spong entitled "The Sins of Scripture". I found it helpful though I think sometimes he stretches his imagination. Chapter headings are;

  • The Word of God
  • The Bible and the environment
  • The Bible and women
  • The Bible and homosexuality
  • The Bible and Children
  • The Bible and anti-semitism
  • The Bible and certainty
  • Reading scripture as epic history.
This last chapter I found to be one of the best summaries of the formation of scripture. While John Spong tends to use a lot of words to make his points, it is well worth the read. For those who are skeptical about conservative expressions of Christianity, this gives an alternative outlook.
I ran!
My friend put a pointed message on facebook giving information about a "Stadium to Surf" 10k road race on March 9th next year, with the implication that we should do it. So today we walked to the reservoir and jogged (sort of) around the track. It was pretty pathetic but it was a start. We have four months to go from walking a few kilometres to running ten kilometres in a reasonable time. Watch this space.