A man in one of my chaplaincies today raced off saying he would catch me in a few minutes. I was talking to another man when he re-appeared and handed me a plastic shopping bag saying, "Happy St Patricks Day." Here is a photo of his gift. I love sipping a Guinness.
"A big group who cant keep up."
I was asked to talk to a Lions group about the Night Shelter Work. I have talked to many groups and have discovered that many people do not understand the plight of the poor in our cities. People my age and older grew up in a very stable society. There were always plenty of jobs. People with mental health issues were often locked in institutions and looked after out of sight. Others who perhaps were "below average" could find manual or manufacturing work. Often in the groups I talk to are middle class and up people who have lived a fairly comfortable sheltered lifestyle. They see any loser as losing because they are lazy. They live in comfortable suburbs and don't realise the numbers of people who are struggling. Life has changed. Mental health sufferers are out on the street, often without the necessary support. The workplace has changed. It has become digital. Manufacturing has moved overseas. There are not the jobs for the less able. More and more people are struggling, and it is hard to communicate this reality to older, comfortably off middle to upperclass people. The illustration I used to this group: "I have often run half marathons. In a half marathon there are elite runners who take off and run great times. The are a group up front. Then there is the middle group of average runners, plodding along happy to finish and enjoy the run. But in every half marathon there are the strugglers. These are people who have not got the stamina for a long run. People who haven't trained sufficiently. People who don't have the ability, try as they might. If they finish it is when the marshalls have started packing up. Many give up running and walk. Many just stop and find a way home. There is always a group who can't keep up. .... (then I pause briefly and look at my audience) I am here to tell you that in the journey of life in our society there is a bigger and bigger group of those who just can't keep up! In our super efficient, digital, fast changing society, there's a growing group of people who cannot keep up." I said this so forcefully that there was absolute silence and I had everybody's attention. I went on to expound on the reasons for this and why we needed the Night Shelter and its work.
I wished I had said, "You hate seeing things you love badly treated"
We had a Church meeting on Sunday. We are a small virtually rural congregation with visiting ministers doing the preaching. I think their leadership of the services is below par. We were invited to be honest and open at this gathering so I said some positive things about the Church, but then said essentially that I could not encourage any friend to attend here, because I found that in general the services were "disappointing." "To me" I said, "They lack thought and preparation." A little later in the meeting I commented how I got angry sitting in Church. I tried to tell the truth in love, and I did say encouraging, positive things too but I think there were those who thought I was just a grumpy, judgemental old man who was being nasty about ministry colleagues. Later I wondered how I could have communicated in a better way about why I am at this point. I wished I had said: "Imagine if you were a dog lover. You kept dogs and cared for them intently. You loved dogs and throughout your life did everything in your power to improve the welfare of dogs in your community. Then one day you saw somebody neglecting and mistreating a dog. How would you feel? You would feel sad, angry and want to do anything in your power to make the neglect and mistreatment stop. In my life I have given most of my years to advance the way of Jesus in our community. It has been my passion, my reason for being and absorbed most of my energy. I have lived trying to express in word and deed the way of Jesus, because I think it is so 'right' and life enhancing. Now I sit in a Church where I see this way neglected, distorted and mistreated every Sunday. I cannot help but feel sad, angry and want to do everything in my power to stop this mistreatment of the way of Jesus."
They are still young.
My wife and I had coffee in a cafe yesterday. There was a group of elderly people at a table close to us. There must have been about a dozen of them, they had joined a few tables together and were a noisy bunch. One man at the head of the table had a party hat on and it was obviously his birthday that they were out celebrating. There was much lively, noisy conversation and laughter. They had a glint in their eyes, were teasing each other and were full of life, humour and conviviality. I thought, "They are just like teenagers!" Then I realised a truth. Our bodies get old, but at heart we still feel young. Scratch the surface of any elderly person and you find a young person trying to get out. Good on them! You go guys! You rock!