Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Not too bad for an old man."

Who is that old grey haired man looking into the distance?
(At Oban Scotland) 
Coming toward the end of the pathway of life. (At Oban)
When people ask me the question, "How are you?" one of my stock phrases which I use too often is, "Not too bad for an old man!" I want to share two interesting aspects about getting old. 
You have to stop living life in the future.
I am reading a novel, a bit of a contrived novel because it is written by the New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg. It really is a theology book in novel form.... quite a good effort. One of the characters is talking about his life. "Turning fifty was no big deal - I was becoming established... writing books...being noticed.... But the approach of sixty is different. When I was growing up sixty was old - it really was. ..... I think I have lived my life in the future - that goes with ambition, you know. Fulfillment is in the future - life will be good when I've made a name for myself .... But what's the future when you're getting close to sixty? It seems to me that sixty and older is about decline." (Putting Away Childish Things - Marcus Borg.) At sixty six I can identify with that. I can no longer run as I used to. When I do I am slow and ungainly.. I will never have that feeling of floating over the surface, the exhilaration of it all again. I still enjoy a sex life but my orgasm is a whimper compared to what used to happen and it takes me all night to do what I used to do all night.... I will never regain that sexual power and passion I once had... the best of my sex life is over. I ran a Church and there was always the possibility of new people, new programs, a great sermon ... always a future dream... now I sit in the back pew listening to lousy preaching. I had new jobs and new dreams but what is there to look forward to at sixty six?  When I lay my head down on the pillow to go to sleep I will often purposely think of something positive in the future as my last thought before I drift off. I am used to thinking of such things as the creative opportunities in a service I am planning; a half marathon I am working towards; a special night off with my wife; a project at Church I can look forward to with its possibilities or some other positive future possibility.  Lately with my wheezy chest, the natural decline and uncertainty of health and the ongoing, seemingly endless challenges of night shelter "stuff", I find it more difficult to find positive thoughts to go to sleep with. "The future" seems cloudy, short and uncertain.  The character in the book says he was learning to live in the present and to enjoy the present. I am not sure that it's the total answer, I still think it is good to dream and plan, but it is an issue. As you age your future dreams are limited by decline and limited time. You have to change your "reason for being" somewhat. I have a new admiration for people I know or have known who face adversity and the decline of abilities with fortitude and cheerfulness. I often think to myself, "What on earth can they look forward to? Yet they remain positive." Please God let me learn that skill.
Accumulated grief...
One other thing about getting older is that you have accumulated grief. Lots of people you have known have died. Lots of people who have been in your life have moved on, physically to other places or for a number of reasons, friendships or closeness you once had have ceased or changed.  I was in the brewery where I am chaplain the other day and walked passed the door I used to turn into to see a friend. He died just a little over a year ago. This day, as I often do, I felt a tinge of sadness at the remembrance of him. "I would no longer have those conversations" hit me with a new sadness. Down the street I bumped into a man who is a church elder in the church I recently retired from. We had shared a lot together over the years I was there. He was the one I had worked most closely with. I love him.  I talked with him in the street and he told of working hard in the Church that still has not really replaced me.  The Church and its work was top most in his thoughts, but it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. Our friendship has changed! We are drifting apart. We are not part of each others' lives any more... and that is sad. It is a bereavement.  I drive around areas of town and I see the houses of people who were dear to me in my life. They have died and others live there now. I feel sad, they were part of my life but are no longer there. The older you get the more sadness, the more "goodbyes" you have said, the more changes you have been through, the more often you have experienced grief. Somehow we carry a certain load of accumulated grief. It is not life destroying, but it is something I never realised when I was a young person wondering why older people often stayed silent and looked into the distance.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Godless Morality

I have been reading Richard Holloway. He was Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church, but he resigned that position in 2000. He now calls himself an "after-religionist".  A friend of mine is quite a fan of his and I was to have coffee with him, so I "Googled" Richard Holloway and found lectures, interviews and talks he had done.  I am now reading and enjoying a book of his. After a 1998 Lambeth Conference where the issue of gay priests/marriage etc. was debated, he wrote a book entitled "Godless Morality". I have not read the book but have listened to him talking about it. He had been shocked and shaken by the hatred generated in the Church debates and decided that various people trumping arguments by saying, "God says..." and giving their interpretation of the scriptures was problematic. He proposed that we can discuss morality in a human way without using "God".  This book caused shock waves in his Church and the reaction was such that he decided to resign. He is an entertaining and thought provoking speaker, thinker and writer. 
As I sat in Church a couple of Sundays ago listening to, in my arrogant opinion, a poorly presented and prepared sermon, the preacher quoted a text that got me thinking about Richard Holloway's position. It was Mark 2: 27. There is a debate and criticism of Jesus because he and his disciples had not kept some rules about what is permissible on the sabbath. ("God says!") The conclusion of Jesus' answer goes like this, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath." As I sat in Church reflecting on that, distracted from the sermon, I thought, "That is essentially what Richard Holloway is saying!"  He is saying in a sense "If it expresses mercy (compassion) and is something good for humans it is OK and 'of God', whatever the religious rules and institutions say." We are freed from hide bound, and sometimes time bound religious "rights and wrongs" to do our own thinking, guided by compassion - that which is good for humankind, for fulfillment and fulness of life. In the same debate reported in Matthew's Gospel part of Jesus' answer is "I desire mercy and not sacrifice". It confirmed to me that the spirit of Holloway's thinking is in line with the spirit of Jesus' teaching. Both are religious rebels in their time. 
The Dave Andrews quote that I have on my blog page is relevant...

"The essence of being a devotee of Jesus is to live in sympathy with God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God's heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to learn to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe.
It means developing our capacity to sense intuitively what causes love pleasure, and what causes love pain, and doing everything we can to enhance the pleasure, and diminish the pain."

A good sermon.. good people who "own" their Church.
Yesterday the visiting preacher at our little local Church was a retired pacific island minister, for whom English was not his first language. He read his sermon, but it was well thought out and delivered with passion. He talked about "the priesthood of all believers" as being central to the reformation of the Church. Us being servants of one another in our Churches and communities. I have been critical of the preachers visiting us, but yesterday I enjoyed his presentation and passion. After Church they have a cup of tea and most often some home baking. The person appointed for that day works shift work so couldn't attend, but she had forgotten to arrange a stand in. There was no milk and nothing to eat. Within a flash three older women, without consulting, had dashed home, procured milk and raided their baking and biscuits and with much laughter and good humour, we were generously catered for. I thought that was great, not that it would have hurt us to go without. It showed their sense of responsibility toward each other. There is a good "feel" of down to earth friendship amongst the small group. They are small in number, mostly elderly but they are "alive". I keep thinking, Jesus changed history with just twelve people.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Still journeying...

My companions on the journey.
It has been a while...
There has been quite a gap between posts. I perhaps post too often but that is not the reason I have not posted. I have been distracted. I have come back and found that being chairman of the Night Shelter has got busy.  I came back hoping to have time to walk, to garden and to do things I have not been able to do when I was not retired. But I am finding that between the chaplaincies I do and Night Shelter events my dreams to do all these things  have gone by the board. I find too that the night shelter work is stress producing. Amongst the staff and the members of the board there are a variety of view points on various subjects. I find too that people often do not share their view points in a way that is open to discussion. They often share their perspective like it is the truth, the final truth and there is no room for discussion on it. I hear these view points and have at times been lying in bed in the early hours of the morning wondering how we are going to tie it all together. The other thing I have found is that many little things get tossed my way...in the early hours of the morning I suddenly think of an email I haven't sent, or a phone call I need to make and stew on how to get it all done. I keep saying "it will ease off", and I certainly hope it does. I decided that I will let everyone know that Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are my time, off limits, except in real emergencies. I need to admit too, that just recently the busyness and the endless number of issues has been getting me down a bit... I am susceptible to depression, and I have been feeling down about it, even though there are positives. I will cope though, generally at such times I just dig in and work my way through it. (often eating too much as one of my stress relief outlets.)  
We have been attending the local Presbyterian Church. I enjoy going to the local church and being involved with local people. They have accepted us and now we joke, have meaningful conversations and feel part of the group. Visiting clergy lead the services but I have to say the standard is very low! If most of these had trained at the college I attended they would have been guided toward a different vocation.... at least as far as preaching/worship leadership is concerned... they may be wonderful pastors. I was asked to read scripture in the service yesterday and I did so, making sure I gave a couple of sentences of introduction. It was the first up front thing I had done and even though it is little enough, I was pleased I did it well.  But yesterday's sermon I disliked. It was something a poorly presenting layman might preach in the 1950s. From my point of view it was blasphemous, an insult to God and scripture. The guy promised we would be barred from heaven if we didn't believe as he described. At that point the nasty streak in my mind said, "That's OK if you and the God you depict are there I'm not sure I want to go there!" (Christianity is NOT about getting to heaven anyway!) Of course I did not say it out loud. I felt like standing up and saying, "This is poorly presented bullshit!" and walking out... but I didn't. One of the women who complimented me on my part asked if I was on the list of preachers, and why not? I am left asking myself, "Do I want to preach? Do I want to be tied down to responsibility?" But then again how long can I sit and listen to "poorly presented bullshit"?
Having said that during the week before my negative reaction to a couple of things in the service sparked me into thinking, "What do I now think about that?" I am doing some scribbling and may blog soon about these two topics. 
Books mark a journey....
At a certain stage on Saturday it rained and it looked like it was going to set in. I decided to do an inside job. I decided to throw out books. Some time ago I went through my books and threw some out, donating them to a local 24 hour book sale. It was time to do it again, so I attacked the bookshelves in my study and in another store room. I threw out some books I did not need because I am no longer in Church ministry... books about Church growth, Church organisation and theology of the Church. I threw out Bible Studies for groups and some books about worship. I threw out books that I no longer thought were relevant. You get to look back on some themes that you once got interested in, and now you decide "I don't think that's important any more!" There are dated books relating to certain historical situations say in the 1970's, but the world has moved on. I threw out a lot of books that contained stuff I no longer believe in. (a bit like Sunday's sermon) But in the process I discovered books that had been so meaningful to me, had inspired me, changed me or brought a great leap in my growth as a person. These I lovingly replaced in the shelves closest to my desk. They, or at least their authors, are my precious companions. It was an interesting exercise. It marked a stage in my life - retirement. It showed how I had changed and grown gradually over the years. And it made me appreciate again the writers who share their journey with us.