Four funerals - two Church services and two chaplains conferences. - Phew!
I have conducted three funerals in the last three weeks, and yesterday I was doorman/sound system operator at a fourth. Two of the funerals were for men I would count as friends. The fourth was for an elderly lady in the local Church whose health has been going downhill for quite some time. They have a bit of a tradition here of ringing the bell of the Church at the end of the funeral. They ring out one chime for every year of the person's life. My friend Robert used to be the bell ringer on such occasions. At his funeral one of the local cafe owner's came and offered to ring the bell 73 times. Yesterday after this lady's funeral I rang the bell 83 chimes. It has been an interesting journey. I am still saying "bugger" about my local friend (Robert) who was found dead. I miss his presence at Church and in the local community. I looked forward to our conversations and life seems more empty without him around.
I have led worship at the local Church the last two Sundays. Though they were not my best, I enjoyed introducing dialogue, doing some pastoral care toward a grieving congregation and feeling like I was sharing something important. I enjoyed too the creative process of exegesis of the readings and working out how best to communicate the message of them. It is an art and I enjoy being the artist.
A gift of grace...
The day after my last funeral, a retired firefighter phoned me asking if he could come and see me. "I need to see ya!" he said over the phone, "Are you gonna be home this afternoon?" So we tidied the lounge, got afternoon tea ready and waited for his arrival, wondering what he had to see me about. He arrived in his farm ute, with a crate on the back, filled with macrocapa firewood all chopped and split. Macrocapa is one of the best and most expensive woods for fire wood. He poked his head out of the cab window and in a gruff tone yelled, "Well, where d'ya want it?" We unloaded this surprise gift and went in for a cup of tea and a friendly catchup chat. How cool is that. As I left I looked at the pile and said, "Thank you so much! You are so great!" "Look in the mirror and say that to yourself! See ya!" he retorted and away he went. My mind went back nearly twenty three years ago when I first met him. All I said was, "Hi I'm Dave Brown, I'm the new chaplain." and he told me "take your f***ing Christianity to Wellington and shove it up the bums of those F***ing bastards up there. Don't bloody Bible bash us!" We now enjoy each other's company. As I stacked the wood a couple of days later I realised the tremendous amount of work he had done in cutting it and splitting it. It is such a warm expression of friendship.
Women.... learn some manners!
It may be because I have been busy and tired, but lately I have decided mature women need a lesson in good manners. I do a lot of extra voluntary stuff. I'll fix a tap, or do some little handy man job for somebody, or do maintenance around the Night Shelter or Church. In the last few weeks I have had what only can be called "demands" made by women. "I need a key." "The toilet is leaking" "I need paint, what about that paint you've got?" I have noticed how rudely a succession of women have asked for favours. If it had been men they would have said, "Hi Dave, I know you're busy, but I need a key. Would it be possible for you to get one for me please? If that is OK? Are you sure its OK? How can I pick it up?" But not this woman, just an email, "Hey Dave I need a key!" It is as if you are one of their employees and they are the boss. Its a demand, with no "please" and "thank you". In musing on this I decided that its the way they talked to their children, and they carry it over to mugs like me. I have expressed frustration a couple of times and that has brought about a lessening of their demand. "Oh I know you're busy, just when you can."
Is a funeral the time for a sermon?
I sat through the last funeral as the sound system controller, doorman, janitor. There were folk I knew from St John there and I knew that most people there were not Church goers. Many were people from the local community I see in the supermarket and garage. I like the guy who was leading it, he is a loving man, but it was a "religious" funeral with Christian dogma, jargon and cliches. Under the heading "Words of Comfort" in the order of service he gave a little sermon. In essence he said, "The Bible says death is the 'enemy'.(the metaphysical pro's and cons of this considered) We can defeat death by believing in Jesus Christ. Our deceased 'sister' did. So I commend to you her faith - if you believe then you too will defeat death and have something to look forward to at the time of your death." I was embarrassed. Here in the church I attend, representing the congregation I fellowship with, this guy was hitting people with this 1950's dogma! Reading the body language, most of the congregation had switched off anyway. I am not a follower of Jesus to get to heaven when I die! If heaven is a reality (and I think some kind of ongoing dimension is.) I cannot believe in a God who would ban people from heaven on the basis of believing the right dogma? I felt sick and did not want to be identified with this congregation. In spite of his desire to commend Jesus to people, I suspect he would have had the opposite impact. At least he did on me. I felt repulsed by this sort of Christianity, though I actually like that particular minister as a man.