Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, August 29, 2014

A new experience of being vulnerable.

Our grandson is going to be hard to say goodbye to!  Edinburgh is a long way from Dunedin!
At the start of our visit to Edinburgh he could not sit unsupported. Now he sits,  is beginning to crawl and whenever he can will pull himself up to stand.
A nosedive!

On July 24th, when we arrived back in Edinburgh after our trip to Southampton, Brighton, London and Biddenden I had the beginnings of a sore throat that eventually led to a head cold, then a chest infection. Since then I have been battling chest troubles, eventually going to a doctor about a week ago. It was diagnosed as a "chest infection" and I was given antibiotics.  I have had to cope with fits of coughing which sometimes made me feel lightheaded. My chest seemed to be getting worse, so, keen to get it clear before our big flight back to New Zealand, we went back to the doctors’ rooms, talking with another doctor. He diagnosed "asthma", gave me a breathalyser and put me on a course of steroids. The first day of the dose I was feeling better and spent the afternoon helping my son erect a retaining wall. I noticed I was feeling pretty washed out so I tried to leave him to do much of the physical work. Both he and my wife were very protective but I could not help but get involved in the physical stuff. Their objections made me feel a bit passed my “use by” date, so I wanted to “do my bit”.
Pleased with our achievements, we settled for our evening meal, and remained around the table watching a TV program and chatting. It was then I got one of my coughing fits. Afraid I might scare the baby and disrupt the group I stood up and walked toward the bathroom. As I reached for the door of the bathroom I was momentarily dizzy, then all I knew was that I had collapsed, crashing against the walls as I went down. (– so much for not scaring the baby nor disrupting the group!) Still dazed, I rose to my feet stupidly saying, “I am fine!” Everybody was by then rushing to my aid and knew I wasn’t.  Me, bullet proof, Dave Brown had experienced a blackout? I felt stupid! I felt old! We measured my blood pressure, which wasn’t too bad.   My pulse, however, was racing, and kept racing into the night.  Was it just the coughing? Was it the steroids? We talked with a doctor this morning and she wasn’t worried. But it was for me, a new experience of vulnerability. 
I am happy to report my health today is improving in leaps and bounds, and I expect by the time we board the plane for New Zealand, I will not be one of those annoying, perpetually coughing passengers. I just feel a bit more aware of my age and mortality.
Marcus Borg motivates…
I have just finished reading Marcus Borg’s latest book, “Convictions: A manifesto for progressive Christians.”  I enjoyed it and have been challenged by his calls to seek justice. But I leave you with a quotation from his opening chapter. He writes; “I have also experienced a second and unexpected effect of turning seventy: it has been interestingly empowering. In a sentence: If we aren’t going to talk about our convictions – what we have learned about life that matters most – at seventy, then when?”  I have spent years carefully wording sermons and services so as not to offend too much. I run around being careful not to upset people by sharing different perspectives than they have, preferring often to keep silent. Maybe at nearly sixty-six I need to speak more plainly about my convictions?  If not now, when?  The nosedive mentioned above gives even more of a sense of urgency, maybe. 

Monday, August 25, 2014

Line drawings become real.

At the age I was when I caught this fish, I enjoyed reading the history of Great Britain.

The restored Abbey on Iona.
A courtyard in the Administration area of the Abbey

A garden in the ruins of the Nunnery. We lunched there.
This cross has stood here for 1200 years.
George MacLeod. (Ended up a Baron)
When I was a young boy, I had a book which I think came from my father’s childhood. It was an old book with those thick rough pages that old books had. The cover had long since gone, but I cherished it. It was entitled something like “A Boy’s History of Great Britain.” There were short readable articles progressing through a very abbreviated history of Great Britain, which were illustrated by line drawings. In it I read about Anglo-Saxons, Vikings, Picts, Castles, Kings and events. Chapters about such things as the Magna Carter, Queen Elizabeth I, Robert the Bruce, Sir Francis Drake, the Fire of London, the plague, William Wilberforce and many other snap shots of UK history.  I devoured this book as a youngster, and have always valued the fact that it and others, gave me an appreciation of the movements of history that led to where we are now as a society. Among the many pictures in the volume, there were two drawings I can remember clearly.  These were a drawing of St Columba arriving at the Isle of Iona, and a drawing of Hadrian’s Wall. This trip to the UK I determined to visit both localities.
St Columba came from Ireland, though the reasons for his coming are somewhat disputed. In 563AD he set up a monastic community on Iona, a small island off the West Coast of Scotland, and became a big influence in the spread of Christianity in what is now Scotland and the North of England.  There is quite a history in his work and the establishment of a Benedictine Abbey there. But it has been the more recent history of Iona that has drawn me to want to visit the Island. In 1938 George MacLeod was a very active minister in Govan in Glasgow, where poverty reigned. He had fought in WW1 and been decorated for his gallantry, but his experiences in the war led him to train for ministry. He became known for his oratory, his pacifism, his socialist leanings and his involvement in ministry outside the boundaries of the Church. In 1938 he gave up his parish ministry and founded the Community of Iona, using unemployed labourers and clergy trainees to rebuild parts of St. Columba community’s buildings. The community continues and is dedicated to holding each other accountable for their discipleship and committed to justice, peace and the integrity of creation. They explore ways the Christian faith can be expressed in each generation. I read a book by George MacLeod years ago and enjoyed it immensely. I copied out a quotation, which I later discovered has become one of his most popular pieces of writing. I have had it on the wall of my study, my Church office and even on notice boards within the Church. I identify with it in my own life and ministry.
The cross must be raised again at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am claiming that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town garbage heap, at a crossroads so cosmopolitan they had to write His title in Hebrew, Latin, and Greek. At the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble, because that is where He died and that is what he died about and that is where church people ought to be and what church people should be about.
Because of this movement, I was keen to make a pilgrimage to Iona. We caught trains through beautiful scenery to the town of Oban. Then the next day went on a ferry to the Island of Mull, a bus ride down to the end of the island, then a ferry the short distance to Iona, where we spent several hours visiting the Abbey and learning more of the history. I was pleased to visit, even though I was not in good health. There I sensed again a comradeship with people who had gone before – St Columba to George MacLeod (who apparently was often not easy to get on with) – who each sought to give expression in their time to what it means to be a follower of Jesus. I sensed a calling again to continue to be involved in issues of ministry amongst the vulnerable, and to continue trying to give relevance to what it means to follow Jesus.
Hadrians Wall.
In AD 122 Emperor Hadrian visited the frontiers of the Roman Empire. The Romans had conquered Britain, but moving North could not fully subdue the Picts, who they saw as barbarians. They did not see it as worth the effort to try, especially in the rugged Highland regions. Apparently they saw them as blue, (they painted their faces and had tattoos) unclothed, hairy and uncouth. It was decided to build this frontier wall from coast to coast, to keep the Picts out. It was a colossal project, which took 15 years to complete. I think I read that 40million ton of squared rock was used in its construction! There were “milecastles” every Roman mile (It is 73 miles long) and bigger forts built along the way. As a boy I was fascinated by the article about the wall and was keen to visit.  When we visited Carlisle on our last visit to the UK we walked for miles along a path called “Hadrians Wall Path” but never found it. This time we took a guided day trip from Edinburgh, the three hour drive to visit the wall at Housestead Fort. Again, even though I was in bad health, I loved finally stepping foot on this wall, walking along the path beside it and seeing the ruins of “Milecastle number 37” and the bigger ruins of Housestead Fort where up to 1000 men were housed.  Over the nearly 2000 years a lot of the rock has been taken for farm buildings, fences and even to repair Carlisle Castle. There are, however, big sections of the wall still intact.
Line drawings and history, in a book I read in my childhood came alive for me in both my visit to Iona and Hadrians Wall. I felt deeply privileged to be able to encounter both.

At the border between Scotland and England
My wife walking on Hadrians wall.
40 million ton of squared stone about 2000 years ago! Part of Housesteads fort.
The wall

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Did the gym circuit help or hinder?

A number of years ago I was a keen gym freak. For quite a few years I got up in the morning four or five times a week and went to workout for an hour in the gym.  At first I met a friend there and that sense of accountability kept me going. In time my sons joined me before school so that also kept me going on a regular basis. There I enjoyed doing the gym circuit. I could go in, warm up, run through the circuit twice, warm down, shower, get the kids to school and me to the office by 9 a.m. The circuit consisted of alternating a minute each (I think) on a weights machine, then an aerobic machine. I loved it, I could do it without thinking and rip into it without getting bored of one exercise only. The first machine was a butterfly weights machine to strengthen your pecks. You sat on it, set your weight and did repetitions until a light changed. You leapt off that and onto aerobic machine, a grinder and you ground away energetically for a minute.  There were about 20 stations. Some of the weights machines included the butterfly peck machine, leg extension machine, a back extension, lateral pull downs, shoulder presses, seated leg press machine and there were others. As I say at least four days, most often five days a week twice around this circuit was my routine for several years. My muscles twitched and ached. I sweated profusely and went through towels and gym gear regularly.  I was so pleased with myself, I could out perform younger gym goers.  I could see them trying to keep up and often getting half way around and giving up, competitive twit that I was.  I do recall, though, doing leg extensions at various times and thinking, "What an unnatural movement this is! I can think of no situation where my legs would have to work this way." The same with the back extensions. The lateral pull downs just felt awkward and there were other machines I felt forced an unnatural movement out of me.  It was, however, a great start to my day and I expected the gym trainers to know what was right. I felt so righteous and superior, I was doing my body good, while others were lazy! ..... But....
I read an article the other day on the internet (so it must be true) which was entitled "Weight machines to avoid".  It listed off nearly every weight machine in that circuit and told of horrible damage they were doing to your joints, your spine, your ligaments and muscle structure! These days, when my knees start "going out" and my spine and shoulders get stabs of pain from time to time, I wonder if my blissful, righteous morning workouts actually damaged my body?

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Tourist keeps discovering connection!

The state dinning room. 
Lively North Indian dance performance
Craigmillar Castle. 

"As fair as these green foreign hills maybe they are not the hills of home." Still nice though.
Again I choked up at the discovery of unity in a foreign land.
No tourist attraction could beat that!
Dave Brown, tourist...
We have been visiting our son in Edinburgh. This time in two weeks we will be somewhere over the Atlantic ocean heading home to New Zealand. This will be good because I am starting to long for the familiar and am missing responsibility, purpose and routine. I am also missing New Zealand country side. But we have enjoyed being tourists. We are not loaded with money so we have had to be careful about what we do. Here are some thrills of the last week.
The Britannia.. 
We took two buses to the Ocean Terminal Shopping centre, which meant we passed through yet another area of Edinburgh we had not seen.  We visited what is claimed to be the UK's number one attraction, the Royal yacht Britannia. This ship was the home away from home of the Royal family, but is now out of service. I was struck by the sort of British pride in the ship and in the Royal family. I was also aware of the incredible cost to the tax payer of having this ship. We saw the relative comfort of the Royal living quarters and the cramped living quarters of the crew. Compared to Royals of other countries and other rich folk, it was not luxurious, but still I became more aware of the monarchy and the costs involved. As we walked through the rooms, decks and hallways we could hear people conversing in various languages, we realised we were among tourists from a wide range of countries. Some people touring the ship with us belonged to a troupe of performers from North India and at the end of our tour they put on a performance on the wharf beside the ship. As they danced I choked up.  Their performance and the awareness that there were people from all over the world amongst the delighted audience gave a real sense of oneness with the world community. While we fight among ourselves we are essentially one, we ought to enjoy that unity more often. 
The minister of the Augustine United Church where we have been attending invited us to have coffee with her. We enjoyed coffee and nearly two hours chatting in a cafe in the museum. We instantly liked her, her openness, the similarities of our understandings and values and the sense of collegiality in ministry.  It was delightful to feel the sense of unity of purpose and concern with this person. 
Craigmillar Castle..
We visited Craigmillar Castle, a preserved ruin close to here, where at one stage Mary Queen of Scots used to enjoy staying. (we can see the castle from our bedroom window)  I still marvel at how they built these buildings away back in the 1400's, the walls still straight, towers perfectly round and arched stone ceilings still standing. It did, however, make me aware of the feudal system of the old days. A laird would live in this castle and serfs would pay rent and taxes for the privilege of eking out a measly living on the land. They would be expected to protect the castle and their lives were at the mercy of the man in the castle on the hill. Jesus in his time got into trouble because he confronted and questioned a similar domination system that was backed by the religion of the time.  I wondered with our growing gap between rich and poor whether we are getting close to a modern version of this same system? I once did a Structural Analyses course where the directors of the main companies in NZ were listed off.  It was a relatively short list of rich people, with lots of overlap, who basically had the power over the rest of us, determining prices, wages, regulations and economic directions.  In visiting this castle both before and after we walked through grassy fields and woodland. I loved that, being off pavements and away from the crowds of the city. 
Special worship
Today we worshipped at a combined, University of Edinburgh Festival service in a packed Greyfriars Kirk. Soweto Melodic Voices sang. It was a friendly service in spite of the crowd, with people of different denominations, no denomination and obviously different nationalities.  We stood in big circles in the corners of the Kirk and passed the bread and chalice around.  After communion we all "Passed the Peace" with warm chatter breaking out in the Church. It was very moving as communion ended the singers sang the chorus of "It is well with my soul". Behind me a man was seated and at the end of the service I got to chat with him. I discovered that he was an elderly retired minister. He had worked as a carpenter in shipyards, served in the war, then studied for ministry. In the short conversation we had we both sensed a connection and shook hands several times as we told of similar experiences, discoveries and values in our journey in life. For example he was delighted when he learned I had been a plumber! We both shared how our tradesman experience had contributed to our life as ministers. It was one of those special moments. We did not even exchange names, but we were instant companions.
I guess that the highlight of our trip will be time with family. I have enjoyed working on projects with my son. There is a sense of journeying together as we plan and then work on the project together. I enjoy time with my grandson. He is only 9 months so I guess he will never remember this time. But it is simply precious when I see him during the day, I say "Hello" and "What's happenin'?" He looks at me briefly and a smile crosses his face, his eyes light up, he reaches a hand out in my direction and sometimes squeals in joy. No tourist attraction will beat that!
Two weeks left..
I had a secondhand picture book history of England as a child. I devoured that again and again. There were two places that stuck in my mind. They are Hadrian's Wall and the Isle of Iona. In the next two weeks we visit both places and my son and I have a further DIY project to complete. 

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

"Regrets... I've had a few..."

We have been fortunate to be in Edinburgh this year over summer. The UK has had one of its warmest summers on record. The last three days, however, have been grey, drizzly, often with a cool wind blowing. One local said, "Summer is over". Because of this we have not ventured too far from home. Today we just wanted to go "somewhere" so we put on our coats and caught the bus to a local mall. With time to kill I browsed in the book shop. I discovered a book that looked interesting but resisted the temptation to purchase it. (If I bought any more books I will have to pay extra for our luggage home!) The book was The top five regrets of the dying. 
The author had spent time with dying patients and this book is the result of her reflections on conversations she has had in palliative care work. I share the five regrets to prompt your reflection. 

  1. I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me.
  2. I wish I hadn't worked so hard.
  3. I wish I'd had the courage to express my feelings.
  4. I wish I had stayed in touch with my friends.
  5. I wish I had let myself be happier.
Reading theology... 
I have been enjoying reading theological books. I am currently engrossed in a book "The Last Week". Jesus scholars, Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan share insights into the last week of Jesus' life reflecting on the gospel of Mark.  As I read I am often exclaiming.. "That is so true!" or "Yeees, great stuff!" and I have to explain to my wife what I am reading. Excited, with possible sermon series and topics running through my mind, I said to her today, "Why am I reading this stuff? My days of teaching and preaching are over? " She just nodded wisely and said, "That's not the only reason for reading it... and anyway, you do not know what you might be doing in the future." 
Good bye Robin Williams... thanks for sharing your life, your humour and talent with us. I appreciated so many roles you played in many thought provoking films. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Time to cut back maybe?

I point and my son works these days. :-)

Who is that old hunchback?

Nearly finished.. I enjoy projects.

An "old bloke" showed us around the mine workings.
These steam engines are way older than me!
The mining museum.
How long have we had that goat?
We got a text from our daughter the other day asking how old one of our goats was?  It was sick and, because we are overseas, she had called the vet who wanted to know.  My daughter had thought just three years. We thought a little older, but then began to remember landmarks, and realised it was a lot older, at least ten years old, if not older than that. Where did those years go?  Time flies doesn’t it? We often miscalculate time passed. What seems like "only yesterday" can be many years ago. 
“Who is that old guy?”
In Edinburgh my son had a rather small and flimsy garden shed in the little backyard of his house.  He wanted to extend it while we were still visiting so using mainly old timber with some purchased roofing and plywood, we redesigned and remade this shed. We spent yesterday afternoon nearly finishing it. My wife took some photos of us working and as I loaded them on to the computer I thought, “Who is that old guy?”  When you are posing for a photo you can look your best, but when you are busy working, unaware that you are being photographed you really see what others see. As I looked at these photos I saw what others see - an old man. I noted the other day that a nephew was having his 48th birthday! I would have picked him to be still in his thirties.  I class myself as a contemporary of a 48 year old! As far as I am concerned they are “my generation” not “the younger generation”?  - wrong! Last Sunday in the rain, while rushing for a bus I slipped on a gutter and fell. People rushed up to me asking if I was OK (“OKeee” – like only a Scot can say.) I was impressed with the concern. Then I realised from their point of view they were helping “an elderly man”!  
I have to admit to getting old. We toured the Scottish Mining Museum the other day and an "old guy" was our tour guide. I estimated he was in his seventies and doing this as a hobby/part time job as a retired miner. Then he told us how old he was in 1951 and I realised I was at least three years older than him! - "But I'm not that old?" I said to myself! I had a cold/flu recently and discovered after I was getting better that I had very little energy and, given a chance to lie down, would fall asleep by mid afternoon. I have troubles with my knees. If one comes right, the other chooses to play up.  I notice my son can lift heavy things with ease, where as I need a lot more exertion. I notice too that when I go to do something heavy, he will step in and say, “No I will lift it!” - he thinks that I am “an old man”!  While I am stubborn and want to still do all I used to do, I have to admit that my body is not what it used to be.
The “Desiderata” suggests: Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.”  I am looking forward to going back home soon and picking up my responsibilities. While retired from ministry, I will have three chaplaincies, and the voluntary work I do on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. I hope to get into the garden around our acre of ground and I want to do some DIY stuff around our house. As well as this I look forward to doing some walking or tramping. But am I too old? Should I be “gracefully surrendering”?  I have been reflecting on this. Maybe it is time to give up some things? In my younger days I have often been annoyed with “old geasers” who hang in with their old ways of thinking and old ways of doing things a long way past their “used by” date. Maybe I am one of those “old geasers” now?  Having stopped for four months, do I really want to take up where I left off again? Is it time for change?
A big part of the enjoyment of life for me is having goals, challenges and projects to look forward to. I am not sure I would cope with doing little. I saw an old bloke get on the bus the other day, walking stick and looking fragile. He was greeting people in a friendly way and seemed contented with his lot. I wondered then how I will cope with life as I lose abilities to do things? M Scott Peck reckoned one of the big spiritual lessons in life is learning to "let go" - right through to the ultimate "letting go." I have a lot of learning to do. 

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Three books... Retired, but still on a journey.

I am in Edinburgh in Scotland, on holiday visiting family and doing touristy things.  But in the last week or so I have read three “theological” books.  One of my facebook friends said, “Work, work, work! You have to relax young fella!”  I have had a cold/flu thingy so have backed off too much physical exercise.  Two of these volumes I purchased in Edinburgh at a bookshop under St John’s church on Princes Street.  They were “Eternal Life: A new vision” by John Shelby Spong and “Speaking Christian: Recovering the lost meaning of Christian Words.” by Marcus Borg.  It may seem strange buying books overseas, but it is hard to find a Christian bookshop anywhere that stock these progressive thinkers, and books in NZ are expensive.  The third book is another by Spong “A new Christianity for a new World.” I bought this for $2 at a market on Waiheke Island with the intention of reading it on the plane over here. I have read it before.
The “Eternal Life” one has also got “Beyond Religion, beyond Theism, beyond Heaven and Hell.” in its title.  Spong delves back into the beginning of time and life on earth. Gradually, he says, animals emerged and then the beginnings of human life. We, humans, became self-conscious beings, aware of past, present and future. Other animals live in the present blissfully unaware of death and themselves. This self-awareness creates anxiety and religion and a theistic God, a supernatural being, who intervenes or is the explanation behind the mysteries of life was created to cope with this anxiety.  With all of the increased knowledge about life, to the modern thinking person this supernatural being is no longer real or tenable. He goes on to express his understanding of a non-theistic God. He assures us that “God is a presence that I can never define but I could never deny.” He talks about his God experience and goes on to relate this to eternal life.
In his "A new Christianity" book he basically starts out the same way expressing the fact that religion, with its supernatural theistic God, is a refuge for the anxious. That it has lost credibility and we are to move on, grow up to this non-theistic experience of God, or the sacred in life. He points out that as Jesus was fully human, fully alive and loving, his life shows us the nature of this God.  He outlines the basic thrust of the “Ecclesia” of the future.
Marcus Borg takes Christian words (like – God, trinity, heaven, born again, believe, etc.) and with his Biblical scholarship and progressive understanding gives clear, contextual and relevant meanings for these.  I have sometimes loaned or given some of Marcus Borg’s earlier books to people to introduce them to his insights, but often the new concepts and detail of the scholarship has scared the average reader. As I read this I thought that this one may be a better, more accessible introductory book for people… it is readable and not too heavy.  I love his emphasis on moving our interpretation of the faith out of “the heaven-and-hell framework.”
Two disturbing issues….
To retain and redefine or to dump?
I recall having this discussion years ago with a thoughtful elder. He believed words like “Redemption” “Sanctification” “Justification” etc are precious to the Christian faith and ought to be used in worship, but that we needed to educate modern people about them. I argued that they were words from the writer’s cultural experience and we must use different ones today.  If we want people to grasp the nature of the God experience, we are asking too much of them to be educated first. We ought to use familiar words, experiences and concepts to open them up to deeper realities. I found the same frustration with Spong and Borg to some extent. I love their thinking and insights. But when it comes to expressing these things in a worship setting, both seem to be ready to use old language and concepts understood “Poetically”.  Both for instance would retain the use of ancient creeds, though theologically they are far removed from them. But they say, people can use them “poetically” – they express “mystery”. I say we have to make new poetry and express mystery in new ways.  The creeds have too much of a distorting emphasis about what being a follower of Jesus is. Dump them!  Some of the words and concepts Borg explains, I would dump. They carry too much baggage. 
Second issue..
Spong in both of his books essentially wiped the traditional church theistic religion as being an invention by humans to cope with the anxiety of self-consciousness. He suggested that it continues to be a way of controlling people and of keeping them immature. Now I have just finished forty years of leading Churches. I have travelled on my own spiritual journey toward concepts of faith, Jesus, God that are similar to both Borg and Spong, long before I had read both authors. In many ways the road I have travelled has been similar to their journeys.  In my preaching, my worship leadership and teaching I have been pushing the boundaries gently opening up new concepts of God.  Early in my last ministry I recall one of my elders, out of the blue, raising the question at an Elders’ meeting about our concept of God. He preferred a “being, a person in the sky type God” and he had, perceptively, noticed other concepts creeping in. I have been accused of being too “New Age”.  But in reality, from my perspective, I had been far too gentle and not pushing the boundaries enough, just slowly seeking to change the content of people’s understanding. Having said that for forty years I have laboured in Churches where “God” was a theistic interventionist supernatural being “in the sky”.  It was the assumed understanding if I mentioned that word. Spong’s strong dismissal has me asking, “Have I wasted my life?”   I don’t think so. The Church as well as individuals is on a spiritual journey through the centuries. I have been in a transition period. Unfortunately I have not really brought too many people with me toward a progressive understanding of faith.  I also tend to think that Spong overstates his case. People down through the ages have had legitimate God experiences, similar to his, but they have interpreted and expressed it in concepts and understandings related to their time. They have not just invented a “God” to fill the gaps. They have tried to explain their experiences of God in their way with their worldview.  But it has me wondering – maybe I have wasted my time shoring up “the Church” for too long?  I do believe my emphases have enhanced life and love. My actions have set an example of service and compassion with a wider impact than the local congregation.  At all stages I have tried to be honest with myself and caring toward others..  Having said that, I tend to think the Church will never move to the new understandings. The old has too much baggage, people are too attached, so new communities of “followers of Jesus” will have to be formed. 
I have enjoyed reading these authors again. I have read so many of their writings that I almost know what they are going to say. But when I read them giving expression to their perspectives, it prompts me to keep journeying and thinking and helps me clarify my half baked ideas. I enjoy interacting with and learning from their superior scholarship. ... in my dreams I would have on my bucket list an hour spent chatting with Marcus Borg, another hour with John Spong and another hour with John Dominic Crossan... oh and throw in Bishop Desmond Tutu as well. ... I would loved to have chatted with Mother Teresa, Albert Schweitzer, Nelson Mandela and Gandhi... that is where books are so good... I can read and interact with these greats.   

Saturday, August 2, 2014

Warblings on war and city life. ... "Do not use water, it will spread the fire."

A borrowed picture: Such courage amazes and inspires me.
A misty morning in Edinburgh: A view out our window. Good housing but so dense. Not the way I would like to live.
The news of the last couple of weeks has been filled with stories of the Air Malaysia plane shot out of the sky; the unrest in Ukraine; the feeling that Russia is adopting a more aggressive stance toward the rest of the world; the terrible Israeli offensive in Gaza and the devastation there. I am always terrified and saddened by war. As I think about current unrest, and think back into history, you get the feeling that actions in the midst of unrest in the past, sometimes going back centuries have contributed to today's tragedies.  I am probably naive but I have three observations.
"Do not use water..."
When there is a fat or oil fire in a kitchen the advice is "Do Not use water" e.g.
• Do Not Use Water - Pouring water can cause the oil to splash and spread the fire. The vaporizing water can also carry grease particles in it, also spreading the fire.
My firefighters tell me that if you use water, the fire burning in a pot or pan suddenly spreads up the wall and around the kitchen. You end up in a worse situation than you started with. I would like our political leaders to think the same way about the use of military solutions in times of unrest. You may subdue your enemy, but you spread the unrest, the tragedy and killing down through generations. There can be centuries of hate to deal with.  By rushing in with a destructive military response you may be opening up the citizens of your country to centuries of hatred, insecurity and injury. I believe too that in this day and age it impacts on the whole world. I am currently on the other side of the world from my home country. I look to travel home soon but so many people have said, "Is it safe flying anywhere these days?"  When we got our tickets the agent had us flying back through the United States. My reaction was, "Do I want to fly through there? So many people have a grudge against them? Their airports may not be the safest place to be?" 
"Same batch of dough, different ovens...".. understand their "oven"
In a cafe in the Victoria Market in Inverness, Scotland, I saw a plaque that read, "We are all kneaded from the same batch of dough, but cooked in different ovens."  Palestinians and Israelis are from the same batch of dough... we are all brothers and sisters. As one man has said, "From God's point of view every war is a civil war, brother and sister fighting brother and sister."  But they have been baked in different ovens.  They have different world views, experiences, cultures that make them who they are.  I think the beginning of responding to an enemy is to listen to where they are coming from.  "That Palestinian hates me... why? What is it about the Palestinian experience of life that leads him to have this reaction? Is there something we can address in this?" Listen - really listen to the other, the history the culture first. "That terrorist wants to harm us. Why? What is it about his experience of life that leads him to this? How can we address those things?" If I just squash him, his children and their children will still hate us and want to harm us, the hate will spread. 
In the midst of the search for civil rights, the oppression, threats and violence involved, Martin Luther King said, "Love is the only power which can turn enemies into friends." Gandhi said and practiced similar truths. In the midst of the oppression of occupying Roman powers and ruling elites, Jesus said, "Turn the other cheek" which, in context, was quite a rebellious way to combat violence. It was inviting the oppressor to hit, but to hit as an equal!  It is the same with his "Going the extra mile" exhortation.  We need to see that in the long run, for the good of ourselves, our nations and our world, it would be better for us to spend money and time seeking for ways to express love. Military response must only and always be a last resort, it "spreads the fire." even when it looks "successful". When will we ever learn? 
Cities worry me...
We have been living in a modern, but densely populated area of Edinburgh. The houses have very small backyards. Nearby there are blocks of low cost housing estates - housing for the poor. There are some quite high rise buildings. We caught a bus the other day and rode it for an hour and a half through the streets of Edinburgh. I was astounded at the density of the housing, people packed together with not much outside room to move and no real "land of their own". I compare this to the average New Zealand city suburb.  There most people have lawns and gardens to tend, a place to park the car, to work on the car, a place for a vegetable garden if they wish and single story detached housing. I long to be back in that environment.  I ache for our acre of ground in Sawyers Bay. Now I know we in New Zealand are spoilt silly, and that perhaps most of the world's population do not live in such luxury. But I wonder what this dense living does to them? Maori, Aboriginal and many other cultures value intensely their links to the land. It is a deep thing. I feel like many people in cities have lost that link and have lost something important. I find the people around us here in Edinburgh to be dour, and often angry as I encounter them and listen to their conversations on the bus etc. Is this related to how and where they live? I recall once giving a man a dozen eggs from our hens. They were beautiful, big, bright yoked chemical free eggs from free range hens. He refused them. "Proper eggs" came in a carton from the supermarket, they were, as far as he was concerned, "safe". Pale, questionable chemical laden eggs produced in cruel circumstances... good grief... somehow in our city life we lose touch with the processes of nature and we lose something very deeply important and spiritual.  I love my trip, but I long to be back in lush green open NZ.