Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Waiheke Island scrapbook.

I discovered these looking toward Auckland. I do not know their background.
Feeling young experience.
On Sunday afternoon I headed out telling my wife I planned to walk for two-hours.  I was retracing a familiar track, but also exploring it’s higher routes. It finished up out at the end of a peninsula where I had been before. Across the paddock I saw some interesting things and great scenery, so I had to explore.  While there I found yet another track and decided to explore that.  It went along a coastline where I had never been. After a while I saw a sign that gave two options to get back to the village. Of course I took the longest most interesting looking one. I walked and walked and there seemed to be no more definitive signs and the track got “wilder”. I began to worry about getting back before dark and wondered where I was?  I came across a group of young adults going in the opposite direction. They asked me where the track led, and I asked them, “Does this go to a road?”  “Yes” they replied, but they were foreign so I was not confident they had understood my question… I walked on. … and on… faster and faster. I wound my way back and forth, up and down through some picturesque bush and eventually out onto a road! But which way leads back to the village? Do I go left or to the right? I was just working how to establish that when I saw a track heading into the bush across the road, and a sign saying it led to a beach near where we are staying.  I rushed into the bush, pleased to know where I was going, but now more fearful that I might get stuck in there when nightfall came.  I did not know how long the track was. The track reached its full height at a trig point that we can see from the house and, once there I knew I could find my way to a road, and back home.  I arrived just as darkness settled in after walking solidly and quickly for three hours. The thing is I was on a high! I loved the challenges, (e.g. sliding down a bank on my backside) the scenery, the uncertainty, the need for speed and having to push myself physically, (breaking into a run at various points) the isolation and my own company.  I felt young, “on the edge” and adventurous.  My wife had begun to wonder if I had got lost, but I had enjoyed a really great three hours - I loved every minute of it. A simple thing like a walk can bring so much pleasure. I did wish, though, that I had brought a map with me!
I love the old twisted trees on Waiheke.

Wrinkly.. but happy.
One of the shops we have frequented here is a secondhand shop associated with the refuse station. It is called “The New Hope shop” and run by a number of Churches with the profits going into good causes in the community.  Church volunteers staff the shop and we had chatted with the lady behind the counter on a previous visit.  We went to buy a pair of trousers I could do carpentry in without worrying about damaging them. When paying for our purchase, ($4) my wife explained to the lady that they were “for my husband”. “Have you got a good one?” the lady asked, “Husband, I mean?” “Oh yes,” my wife replied. From a nearby isle I commented that she had to say that because I was listening.  “How long have you been married.” she asked. “45 years” my wife replied.  “We have a few years on you, we are 54 years. – It is a long time but its good,” she said with a grin, “They get wrinkly (husbands) but hey, I don’t wear my glasses to bed! Its OK.”   
Love carpentry…
I know I have said this before, but I do enjoy building. I am assisting my son to build a workshop/laundry underneath their house.  It is a great feel constructing something useful and slowly developing a new room. I love the physicality, the problem solving and the looking at things completed and being able to say, “That’s good!”  Perhaps I should have been a carpenter!
A murky looking Auckland CBD across the sea from a distance.
The distance - you can just make out the buildings.
Our project continues-we are extending our original plan.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

Project progress

The project progress.
We had Friday off to celebrate Phil's birthday. On that day forty years ago I got a parking ticket from Melbourne Police for parking too long outside the hospital. Inside I was busy making phone calls sorting arrangements for a funeral of an elderly parishioner, whilst awaiting the birth of our second child. There was no "Parental leave" back then.  Now we are still waiting for Phil & Natasha's second child to decide to come into the world. By lunch time Saturday we had completed blocking the floor framework and the had the basic floor panels in place with a few screws in each. While my wife and I did other chores, son Phil screwed the floor down. We have decided to extend our project to make the room bigger than we first planned. This afternoon my wife and I picked up three free pallets from a liquor store to use in the total project. 
Phil is the baby (about 12 months) in my wife's arms... hard to think he is now forty!

Phil's 2year old daughter on her birthday just over a week ago.

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The project

We are staying at my son and daughter-in-law's home. We are here to help out when their second child decides to be born... currently overdue. Now if my son (40 years old tomorrow) and I sat down and talked theology or philosophy of life or values, I kind of suspect we would be screaming at each other in no time. It feels like he has rejected many of the things I stand for. I find myself having to bite my tongue at some of his attitudes and comments. There are many times when I am sure he comes out with statements that he knows I would disagree with just to wind me up. I just roll my eyes. But the strange thing is that there are many things we have in common. We are very similar in so many ways.  We enjoy a walk in the bush. He enjoys his own company like I do. He is now into vege gardening and has bought the same self sufficiency books that I have. And he likes doing DIY jobs. 
We get on well walking in the bush together. We get on fine, in a strange sort of way when we do DIY jobs together. (Some very blunt things are said) He also likes to do them as cheap as possible. Our project we are working on currently is to build a workshop under his house. A part of his house is up on poles and there has been a roughly divided off storage part which had a make shift floor of questionable standard. We have pulled that all apart and are currently building a proper, lockable workshop space. He told me that he wanted this workshop space, and we had installed a window a year or so ago. When he mentioned it the other day I said, "Would you like to do it while I am here?" "Well I can't do it on my own, can I?" was his way of saying "yes please." But we are using all recycled timber, windows and doors. I offered to go buy some new timber today, but was told in no uncertain terms that was not required. It does make the job a lot harder, but it is amazing what you can do with junk. We have been working on it off and on for the last three days.  First the demolition part of it. Then the rebuild with lots of discussion, debate about how we proceed. But we usually work well together and when he decided it was time to stop tonight, we looked at what we had done and were pleased. Of course if the expected baby decides to arrive we will have to put it on hold for more important things. Watch this space for progress reports.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Tradesman's tools.

It is many years since I worked as a tradesman, but I have never lost a tradesman's attitude toward his tools. The first thing we learned as an apprentice was to respect your's and others' tools. As a young apprentice we often used the tools of the tradesman we were working with. Often he would allow the use of the tools very reluctantly. "It's time you had your own bloody tools!" was a frequent comment. You knew that if you borrowed a tool and broke it, you replaced it. The tradesman would go "ape" at you if he saw you using a chisel in the wrong way, or snips to hit something with or in some way misusing a tool. When you got your own tools you valued them, treated them with "love" and became very possessive of them. You have your favourite snips, your own favourite hammer and got used to the "feel" of certain tools. When a tradesman breaks a tool, he often does not throw it out, somehow he is too attached to it. He will buy a new one, but it will be some time before that becomes "his" and is truly accepted. I recall on Habitat for Humanity building sites getting really annoyed at volunteers who would borrow tools and not return them.  I was reminded of all this today. I have a favourite little crowbar/claw gadget. I fell in love with this one. It once got lost, and I found it months later. (the photo above) I have used it today doing some demolition work at my son's place on Waiheke Island. It has been so useful. We did not have a big crow bar so I have been using this one, really overstraining it and using it beyond what it is designed for. I was trying to prize off a piece of timber, hitting my bar with the hammer and yanking it mercilessly.  But when I pulled it out one of its claws had broken. The thing is I have been depressed ever since. I was so annoyed. If I had my full tool kit with me I would not have been misusing it! I have a full sized crow bar hanging in my workshop in Dunedin. If I had been more careful it would not have happened! I had mistreated my friend and it had broken. I went to the local hardware store to buy a replacement, but there was not one just exactly the same. The closest to it was a $44 one, but I put it back on the shelf. (It is the only hardware store on the island so they charge whatever they like) I sadly put my broken bar into my tool box tonight, I can still use the other end. But for a tradesman, it is a form of grief to break a favourite tool. I must be still a tradesman at heart. I am so upset! 

Monday, May 19, 2014

Further to last post...

I went for a walk tonight through some bush to the shoreline by the ferry terminal. I came across the notice about the Maori burial ground I mentioned in my last post.
Just for fun... a Hibiscus flower (I'm told) near our van where we are staying. 
The notice I mentioned last post
The foreshore area that is mentioned.

I’ll be an ancestor one day!

Maori burial ground a few blocks from where we are staying. 
Tupuna = grandparent, ancestor.
Today I am thinking about ancestors. There are several things leading me to think about this.

(1) Near the ferry terminal on Waiheke Island, by the beach there is a lawn area. Next to it is a sign saying something like, “This is an ancient burial area for our ancestors, please respect it as such.” In this area many years ago Maori laid their loved ones to rest. The nearest beach to where we are staying has a similar area fenced off with several headstones showing family plots.  I walk past these places with a sense of reverence. It brings to mind the journey of those who have gone before.  Those who first established human society, family and community in this place and who contributed to the nature of New Zealand society today, are lying here.  In a Maori meeting house ancestors are remembered by carvings and symbols on the wall. Often when speakers are speaking they will place a hand on the wall recognizing and relying on the wisdom of the ancestors. In their culture they have a sense of link to their ancestors and the current of life flowing from them.
(2) I am staying with my son, his wife and their daughter.  I am soon to travel to Scotland to catch up on another son and his family there.  While living here with my son I see in him elements, good and bad, of me. I look at my grand daughter and see the same, in her mannerisms and her way of attacking life. There are similarities in her appearance to my father as a young boy in an old photograph I have somewhere at home.
(3) This visit really reinforces that I am a grandfather.  I am “Pop”.  There is a new grandchild expected any day.  I am, for now, really retired… not working. I have reached the stage where if a newspaper reporter was to report on an accident I had, they would say “An elderly man …”  I do not feel elderly! I am trying to go for a very intentional walk every day to get back a measure of fitness and youthfulness. But the reality is that I will be an ancestor soon enough… I hope a decade or so yet, but I am headed that way.
(4) I am finding that at this stage of life, while still looking forward to new adventures, I am doing a lot of reflecting on the journey so far. This is not morbid. I am going through a transition in the journey of life, entering a new stage. It is natural to reflect on the journey so far.  I can see in the journey influences of people – My father (a plumber, a soldier, thinker and churchman,) Uncle Harry (Smith - who I spent many Saturday’s gardening with, who with another man - Doc. A L Haddon - got me involved in compassionate causes.) Uncle George (a farmer, lover of poetry and all things “Wild Western” ) several friends of the family who loved drawing and painting; Arthur Templeton my childhood minister who was liberal in theology;  etc etc. - I could write pages on all the people who have influenced my journey, there are so many.  They are my ancestors. They are a part of who I am and have been partners in my journey through life.  I wonder what sort of legacy I will leave as an ancestor?

I think we in western societies ought to be much more open to our ancestors, and recognize much more than we do, their presence in our lives.
We might then also begin to ask more frequently, “What sort of ancestor will I be? What sort of world will I pass on? What legacy will I leave?” The impact of our living goes a way beyond our lifetime.

I have used this in my blog before. I found it in a visit to a “museum” on the outskirts of Cardiff. I loved the museum and this poem.

A Meeting Place

I am singular
My time is now,
And I am here,

But I am not alone.

At my back I hear
the ticking of the past,
the faint breathing of many generations
Of my ancestors;
And all about me
Is the family of man.

Here I see what makes the
fundamental me,
A roof above me, bed, and work
Daily bread, and water,
Here I see my words
Here the beliefs that sustain me.

I ponder here the meaning of me...
I ponder here the meaning of “we”..
And what is my humanity...

In this hall is where
I’ll see clues to my identity.

“I contain multitudes”

Written by Gwyn Thomas (Welsh National Poet)
Placed near the entrance to exhibits in the St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Nightmares - emotions catching up.

Old emotions revisited.
A few weeks ago I had morning tea with “Gold Watch” a bunch of retired fire fighters. I was talking with one man who had been retired for quite a number of years. Some comment sparked him to tell me about a call he went on during his years of service. The call was a very tragic one and as he told of the events he went quiet. He said in a quiet voice, “It was really sad.  I still remember it like it was yesterday.” and shook his head sadly. He went on to tell about another couple of scary calls and his feelings.  He eventually summed it all up by saying, “There were some pretty tough scenes.”  I realised that in some informal way he was debriefing. The visit to the station had brought back these vivid memories and he was unloading with me and expressing his feelings. I think I have been going through a similar experience with my emotions catching up with me.
Nightmares - why?
I retired from Church ministry at Christmas time. I have, however, kept myself fairly busy with chaplaincies, my surgery and the fundraising effort for the Dunedin Night Shelter.  Now I have come away from Dunedin and am staying with my son, daughter-in-law and granddaughter on Waiheke Island. I can do no work.  For four months I am out of circulation. I have had a few phone calls, emails and texts relating to drop-in centre or chaplaincies, but have had to say “Sorry I am out of circulation.”  Initially I slept well on our holiday. Our bed in our van is comfortable, quiet and warm. But the last few nights I have had nightmares that have disturbed my sleep. Sometimes they are related to the Church and ministry.  One night was centred on a St John ambulance scene, another the brewery or other chaplaincy scene.  Another was Night shelter issues.  Why? 
I think partly it is the stresses of my work life catching up on me now that I am stopped. I have often visited busy strong manly men after heart surgery.  Often I am stunned by the fact that these “real men” have started to weep. It seems to be the stresses of life catching up on them after the shock and forced stopping of the surgery. I think that is what is happening to me. I am forced to stop, and my emotions are  now catching up on me.
Unresolved feelings of guilt
The second reason it is happening is a certain amount of unresolved guilt. First - In each of these areas of ministry I have had weaknesses and I feel that “failure”. My work has not been up to my own expectations and I feel guilty about that. (I have to accept my humanity) But secondly, I realise that in each area I feel like I have let people down. The Church I retired from is struggling to find itself and to get a successor. (An elderly lady at the Church died while I have been up here and she had told me she wanted me to take her funeral – I think this was a trigger for these nightmares.)  The Night Shelter is in the middle of a fundraising campaign and there are other awkward issues that I have left people to deal with.  I had not really organised a real stand in at St John and there are events coming up that could do with a chaplain. (I have had three phone calls as St John chaplain and felt guilty I could not respond)  All that to say that whether I should feel guilty or not, I am having to deal with feelings of guilt about letting people down.
How am I now going to contribute?
Thirdly, I have feelings of uncertainty about my future usefulness. I am enjoying doing DIY jobs with and for my son, and I could spend the rest of my life doing this sort of thing around my own home. But I know I have more to offer than just DIY skills.  How I contribute to the community in years to come is still uncertain and this uncertainty contributes to my nightmares.
It is a funny stage of life to experience, but that’s what is happening for me.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Be willing to be disturbed.

We stopped work on it when it rained and got dark.
An early morning start enabled the children attending the birthday party to enjoy the trampoline.

My son and I spent a couple of hours erecting this trampoline. It was quite a job with 96 springs to install under tension, 96 net ties to loop, again under tension and of course the manual for such things is not always the most helpful. The size of the finished product frightened my son. It took up quite a bit of the lawn and would make mowing the lawn much more complicated. He was expressing his disappointment and that he tries to keep the place tidy, but this child’s equipment would make it tough. His neat lawn will be messed up by this contraption!
As he complained I commented, “That’s just the way it is when you have kids.”  He continued to complain. Then in the nicest way possible I said, “I remember skateboard ramps that a certain kid built at our place. Their remains are still there!”  He was stunned for a while, and replied, “But not in the middle of the lawn!” “They were - until I moved them! And they made things awkward for me.” (I recall my nails, some of my best timber and some of my tools went missing. )  I could have mentioned the bare patches of ground that happened because there was a home cricket pitch on the front lawn. Or maybe I could have spoken of the holes in the hedge where kids had exuberantly gone through the hedge. …or … or…. the general stuff kids/teenagers have that muck up the normal orderly running of a house. The reality is that when you have children in your family normal life gets disturbed.  It is true in fact, that whenever you involve yourself with others, life is disturbed. 
I recall when I got married, I could not spend as much time mucking around with cars with my brothers as I did before marriage. I missed those testosterone filled nights, my wife was a hindrance to my freedom!– but there were rewards.
I remember too when our first child was born how annoying it was.  Pre-baby we could spontaneously decide to go to the films or to eat out. Now we couldn’t. 
When you care for people, or get involved with people, whether they be your wife, your children or whoever, your life will be disturbed.  If you don’t want to be disturbed stay lonely away from people.  If you want to know love, friendship or experience your own or others’ growth, you have to be prepared to be disturbed.

  • ·      I can think of many people who have not got involved in serving, caring, outreach activities at the Church because they did not want their life disturbed. Life went like clockwork for them, and to be involved would mean disturbing their pattern.
  • ·      I can think of people who have avoided getting involved because the people were different from them. They would only mix with people like themselves.  It disturbed them too much to meet different sorts of people.
  • ·      I am essentially a shy guy and sometimes I baulk at meeting new people. I grumble about going to a function or avoid going where I have to meet others. It just seems to involve too much energy, making conversation, listening, putting myself “out there”.  (Indeed, for me one of the temptations of retirement is a tendency to become a happy hermit.)
But the thing is that when we avoid involvement with people because of the incovenience, we are the losers. Our life is lessened rather than enriched. I have so often found this. At the start of the drop-in centre on Friday nights, I often just wanted to go home. But during the night I found I enjoyed friendship and the involvement with others. When I began in chaplaincy, I was fearful. “Why put myself out there?” “Why set myself up for rejection?” But when I hung in there and got involved chaplaincy has enriched my life incredibly.

To sum up: Involvement with people costs and disturbs.
But involvement with people brings meaning, expansion and enrichment to life.  

Monday, May 12, 2014

Some photos from Waiheke Island

We are at my son's house on Waiheke Island. It is a beautiful Island 30 minutes ferry ride from the down town wharf in Auckland, New Zealand. It is part of Auckland city.  The bird life is fantastic and the weather a whole lot warmer than where we live in Dunedin. The temperatures have been like a Dunedin summer, yet in May we are well into autumn, verging on winter months. We are here to look after grand daughter number one at the time of delivery of another grandchild.  I am enjoying regular walks, catching up on the family and the scenery.  Many on the island commute to work in Auckland each day. There are a number of "rich and famous" New Zealanders with lifestyle blocks and palatial houses on the island. There are quite a number of vineyards, wineries and olive groves so it has a bit of a Mediterranean feel about it. I share some photos...
Sunrise from the village on our first day here. 
The beach down the road near a local Maori Marae (meeting grounds)  
Tree of native flowers with a Tui feasting on necter.
The passenger ferry from Auckland unloads at the terminal.
It is an island of idyllic bays.
A local beach/playground area 
A Heron??? 
My very pregnant daughter in law with my oldest grandchild.

Friday, May 9, 2014

Sapphire Wedding Anniversary

May 10th 1969 (45 years ago) a 20 year old plumber married a teacher at the St Andrew Street Church of Christ. It has been an interesting old journey since then.... certainly never boring. Nobody would have guessed the paths we have taken and the adventures we have had. 

Very fortunate man.

On Sunday 27th April I spent the morning at the Central Fire Station, Dunedin. Some of the guys had decided to establish "Gold Watch", some sort of regular gathering of retired fire fighters. They were gathering for morning tea - some savouries and of course the traditional Fire Station scones. I was told I should be there. I wasn't sure I would know many of them but decided to come anyway. I knew all of them in fact and really enjoyed catching up with them. I appreciated the way I was made to feel that I had a right to be there, and was just part of the place. It is for me really special.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

How we see things.

Photo by Daniel Brown.

What we value
I have had a couple of reasons to question and reflect on what we value.  The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust is very busy trying to raise money so that we can purchase the buildings we currently rent.  The number of bed nights increased by 46% last year. We have the police, social work agencies and the hospital refer people to us. We are the only providers of emergency accommodation in town. We also have transitional housing for men fresh out of prison wanting to make a change.  Our work would be much more self-sufficient, more secure and more able to develop if we owned our buildings. Because of this we have been lifting our profile, asking for donations and canvassing as many people as we can. We want to be secure in offering a roof, food and a bed to people who have run out of options in Dunedin. As I have worked on this I have encountered three things.
(a) I read that the Government subsidised a flash golf tournament run in a tourist town about three hours drive from Dunedin. The amount of money ran to around two million dollars from memory.  They have helped this event for the last three years.  We don’t receive any central government funding, though their agencies (police, hospital, mental health teams, WINZ etc.) are pleased to send people to us. I find myself wondering, ”Just a fraction of what they are giving for golf would buy our night shelter so that we can offer a refuge for people.  What do we value?
(b) I read an article about the local SPCA .  I think they were having an influx of cats and volunteers were feeding them. I thought how they often ask for funds and seem to have no trouble getting funds.  Full of envy, I said to myself “I bet they own their facilities!”  The picture of helpless homeless animals being neglected tears at people’s heartstrings and the local SPCA can employ people, house animals and function very well with relative ease.  I admire their work and see them as a necessary part of a caring community, but why is it so hard to raise funds for homeless people?   Somehow we think that the people deserve their plight. Now I can understand why we think that, but I would strongly suggest it is never that simple. There are complex reasons why people end up homeless, and the way we live and run our community life (education, health, family life, individualism, economy) all contribute to their plight.  Whatever the causes of their homelessness, it is not entirely their fault, and as a community we need to sense the need to provide the safety net of emergency shelter. It seems to be easy to be able to do it for animals, why not people?
(c) I had the job of sending letters asking for support from Churches.  I looked up Church websites to get their contact addresses. One Church was raising two million dollars to refurbish their old church building! Now I suspect that has something to do with new regulations relating to earthquake strengthening that have come in after the Christchurch earthquake… but two million? ....What would Jesus do? Our local church is raising funds and spending millions on refurbishing their historic building. On a good Sunday 25 people might attend Church. There are two worship centres.  Again, what would Jesus do? The sad thing is that I sent out around 50 letters to Church congregations seeking some help. I may be pleasantly surprised, but I suspect that nearly all will think there are more important things to raise money for than “Emergency accommodation for people” after all, as one lady at church told me, “It’s their lifestyle choices” that cause the problem.

And Jesus wept.

Indifference, by GA Studdert Kennedy

When Jesus came to Golgotha, they hanged Him on a tree,
They drove great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned Him with a crown of thorns, red were His wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human flesh was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham, (or Dunedin - or your town) they simply passed Him by.
They would not hurt a hair of Him, they only let Him die;
For men had grown more tender, and they would not give Him pain,
They only just passed down the street, and left Him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do,’
And still it rained the winter rain that drenched Him through and through;
The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see,
And Jesus crouched against a wall, and cried for Calvary.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Easter songs....ugh!

- This is where I could get crossed out of the book of life!
We were good little Christian people and attended the local Good Friday service and the Easter Sunday service. The Good Friday service was led by the Parish Council. There were readings and prayers and I appreciated them. But as I sang the songs (ones I had no doubt chosen myself in years gone by) I realised how much I had changed. At various points I had to stop singing. Here are some sample words...
"Who am I
That for my sake
My Lord should take
frail flesh and die."
"Jesus, all grace supplying
turn thou thy face on me..."

"Be thou my consolation
My shield when I must die
remind me of thy passing
when my last hour draws nigh"
"There is a green hill far away
without a city wall,
where the dear Lord was crucified
who died to save us all."

"we believe it was for us
he hung and suffered there."

"He died that we might be forgiven
he died to make us good
he died that we might go at last to heaven
saved by his precious blood."

"There was no other good enough
to pay the price of sin
he only could unlock the gate
of heaven and let us in."
Those who have spent time in Church will know the familiar theme. One young man in my old Church used to repeat the theme like this:
1.            God’s justice says there can be no forgiveness without the spilling of blood. (Old Testament sacrificial system)
2.            There had to be a perfect offering because God's wrath demanded a perfect offering.
3.            But God loved us so much that He provided that perfect offering in the form of his divine Son who came to die as an offering in our place.
4.            Because of that we can be forgiven (if of course we believe all of the above) and God will let us go to heaven so that we get to have eternal life.
5.            That is essentially why Jesus came... to die for us so that we can go to heaven.
The hassle is I don't believe it! If it was true I would not worship a God like that. I would loathe him! I would not want to spend eternal life with him thank you very much!

Now I know that I probably have offended good Christian people and that some would say I am headed for the burning fires of hell. I will take my chances on that, I need to be honest to myself and to my experience of the sacred.  What I am saying is that I do not accept the "substitutionary" theory of the atonement that many Christian hymns, songs, liturgies and writings focus on. Secondly I do not think that Jesus' reason for being and ministering and dying was "so that we might go at last to heaven".
"Well what do you do with the Bible passages that seem to endorse the substitutionary theory of the atonement?” some would ask accusingly.
The story is told of the difficulty that missionaries and Bible translators had trying to translate the word “lamb” and “shepherd” in the scriptures for Eskimos who had never seen sheep or who had never known green pastures or seen shepherding.  The Bible has plenty of pictures of lamb, sheep and shepherd to explain experiences the people of Israel had with their God.  There is a sense when it comes to speaking about deep experiences in life all our language has to be metaphor.  Metaphor, however, is very much linked and tied to the culture in which we are placed. We use the familiar to explain the deep and unfamiliar.
A new experience of God
Let me tell you a story. In my last ministry there was a woman who rented a car park in the Church car park.  She ran a shop around the corner. She never looked very happy, always wore black and whenever I greeted her she tended to ignore my gesture of friendship.  The only real conversations I seemed to have with her were when she complained about some event in the car park. Though she was a good-looking woman, I pictured her as a grumpy, frosty woman.  I retired as minister and a week or so ago went to this lady’s shop with my wife to purchase some clothing for our family in Edinburgh. This woman I had seen as a “dragon” was personable, friendly, helpful and encouraging. My picture and experience of her changed dramatically. Now a similar thing happened for the early followers of Jesus.  They had known a God interpreted for them by the religious/political elite. This elite used religion to keep everyone in their place.  These elite presented a God of purity rules, who dictated who was in and who was out, who was acceptable and who did not measure up. But when they encountered Jesus they learned of a loving God like the father of the prodigal son. They now knew one who counted them all as acceptable. Their picture of God dramatically changed. Their experience of God was now a warm experience, an inclusive one, one of “Grace” ( the Apostle Paul’s favourite words) - unmerited favour.
Putting spiritual experience into words
How do you explain this to others? In their world and in their culture what metaphors communicate this deep new spiritual reality? They had in their religion a sacrificial system. Forgiveness required a price and it now felt like the price was paid! Secondly they were used to a slavery system. Slaves found freedom when someone redeemed them. They now felt free! They used these metaphors of sacrifice and redemption to explain this new spiritual experience. They were metaphors describing their religious experience. I do not believe they were ever intended to be a description of metaphysical/spiritual “deals” that God did by providing his son as a “price”.  The emperor Constantine forced the Church into drawing up definitive creeds and so these colourful metaphors began to be set in concrete as “dogma”. Once again religion was used to control people and keep them in their place. We have for centuries misread the original writings and for years distorted the picture of the God Jesus sensed a partnership with.
Why Jesus died…
·      Jesus died because his way of love and his teachings cut across the system that economically favoured their position.
·      Jesus died because the inclusiveness of his lifestyle challenged the purity system that kept everyone in their place and reinforced the elite in their position of privilege and power.
·      Jesus died because he loved so much that he did not divert from his way of love, and even symbolically challenged the forces of military power.
·      Jesus died because he was open to, and embodied the Kingdom of God (the ways and currents of God’s life)
·       When we are open to Jesus and his way, we participate in this flow of life and in scriptural terminology enter “eternal life” (a divine quality about our living) and “the Kingdom of God.” (the activity and flow of the sacred life within the world)

Much more can be written about this, but for me we discover the truth of Easter when we are open to the freedom of loving as Jesus loved. We discover the exciting freedom and life giving power found in God’s way of giving as Jesus gave.  The paradox within the way of Jesus and indeed in life; In giving we receive: In losing our lives we find them; In serving we find true greatness.