Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, May 28, 2017

Does it matter if some stories are "fake News"?

On facebook a friend reproduced this post about leadership as follows,
What is a true leader??

This is a pack of wolves. The three in front are old and sick, they walk in the front to set the pace for the rest of the group so that they don't get left behind.
The next five are the strongest and the best, they are there to protect the front if there is an attack.
The pack in the middle are always protected from attack with the strongest both sides of them.
The next five behind the middle pack, are also among the strongest and the best, they are tasked to protect the back side if there is an attack.
The last one, that is the LEADER. He ensures that no one is left behind. He keeps the pack unified and on the same path. He is always ready to run in any direction to protect and serve as a "bodyguard" to the entire pack.
Just incase you were wondering what it really means to be a leader... it's not about being out front and for all to see.
It means taking care of your whole team.

Hope you all had a good day x

Then of course there were the comments. One person said, "You know it is fake news eh. Makes a nice story though."
Another person wrote, "Fake news or not it demonstrates a leadership model that is so hard to find and one that is worth considering and practicing."
In other words, it did not matter if the story is historically true about wolves behaviour, its point is true and worth listening to. That makes sense doesn't it? 

Now I want to apply the same rules to stories in the Bible, many, perhaps most of which can be taken as parable or metaphor. We'll stick to the New Testament. Was there a virgin birth? Did Jesus make wine out of water? Did he calm the storm, multiply the loaves and fishes, heal all those people in a miraculous way, come back to life after death etc etc. Today in Church we read the ascension story from Acts. It reads, ".. as they were watching, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. While he was going and they were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them, etc." Now did that happen? Should we get into an argument about whether, and how it happened historically?
I believe for many of these stories in the gospels and Acts (and other books in the Bible) we must say, "Fake news or not, this story demonstrates a deeper truth that is worth considering." 

The late New Testament scholar Marcus Borg suggested this approach. Dominic Crossan suggested that many of the gospel stories and the gospels themselves are parables about the great parable teller, Jesus. This frees us to listen to their deeper meanings and not get bogged down and distracted by historicity questions.
Anyway that is about where I am at, and I could not help thinking of this when my friend posted this story about the wolves and leadership.

Monday, May 22, 2017

What a great model for the Church in our times.

At one of my chaplaincies there is a delightful woman in her forties. I call her the "girl racer of the forklift", because she is so skilled at driving a forklift, stacking pallets, loading a truck and organising the area she looks after. She used to play women's rugby football, then coached it and has always been a devoted member of her club. She recently became president of the rugby club, I think the first woman president of a Dunedin rugby football club. Usually these clubs are the domain of men, and women are just the "helpers". 
I was talking to her recently and she was telling me that the Rugby Club has in recent years opened its doors to other codes. There was a nearby association football club (soccer) which did not have facilities or a training ground. The rugby club opened its facilities and grounds up to this club. The soccer club joined the rugby club. Then a Netball team likewise did not have facilities so they too became one with the Rugby Club. They are all part of the one organisation though they play and train for their different codes. At the end of the season there is a prize giving night. All three groups join together and celebrate the season, with each group giving out their prizes as part of a combined celebration. 
In times past rugby union players looked down on soccer players as wimps, playing a "namby pamby" game. Soccer players scoffed at rugby players claiming they were "all braun and no brains". A women's and girls netball team would not be seen as important. But here the old battle lines of gender, age and code are crossed, and they support each other, share facilities and celebrate together in the name of sport. 

What a great model for the Church. In my last Church I tried to get our central city located Church building to be home for all sorts of life enhancing groups. It worked to a degree. At one stage we had monthly multi-ethnic "family" nights celebrating the cultures, music and foods of different nations. We hosted people working on and teaching about sustainability, climate change and the environment, encouraging their work and in a sense sponsoring their events. Many of these folk were atheists, but we connected with their passion, and they found a home in our wider community.  In earlier years too, we had Sunday night ventures where once a month we "Celebrated the Community." We enjoyed choirs, drama groups, musicians, authors and others who would come together in a cabaret style setting to express their talents. I think, however, that this wider vision of "Church" was something many of the traditional Church folk found hard to cotton onto. It was not fully supported. I saw these wider groups as somehow part of our wider "family" or "Church Community" but the more traditional Church members saw them as just community groups getting cheap use of our facilities. The Church people did not support our multi-cultural family nights as much as they could have. In some ways they missed out on the breadth of God's world. If God is "in all and through all" and if we believe that "in him we live and move and have our being" then Churches should be open to celebrating "life" in all its richness. Anyway as my "Fork lift driving rugby club president" told me about her club and their activities, I could not help thinking what a great model. They join together to celebrate "Sport" not just one code. The Church could/should join with others to celebrate "Life" not just be a religious club of a certain denomination.

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

Passing the peace or arranging a coffee date?

We attend a little local Church with the number of people attending on a good day being only in the 20's. Apart from the Sundays that I lead, we have visiting ministers. One of them tends to lead quite a formal service, in this very small friendly congregation. He dresses in robes and follows very set and religious sounding prayers. Always near the beginning of the service he invites us to share in "Passing the peace" where we are to shake the hand of people in the congregation, and say the words, "May the Peace of Christ be with you." Sometimes he has a difficult job getting order back in the service as this group of people greet each other very warmly, with very little formality. One Sunday he could be seen up the front surveying the noisy rabble looking most uncomfortable, and when he finally got silence returned, he commented that he thought he should bring a bell to signal "time up". Last Sunday he invited us to pass the peace, and a lady across the aisle wrapped her arms around my wife in an enthusiastic hug, to which my wife responded warmly. The woman then moved on to me. "I'm not giving you a hug, it wouldn't be proper!" she joked. I feigned disappointment, as we grasped each others hands and said, "Great to see you!". As I moved about the melee that ensued, I noticed not all were saying the right words, some were catching up on stuff, there were "high fives" with the children and general warmth, smiles and laughter. I over heard a conversation my wife had. The woman she was greeting said, "We'll have to go for coffee again. When can you make it?" and it carried on. When we got home I joked with my wife. "You were not supposed to be arranging a coffee date! This is worship. You were meant to be passing the peace?"  "I think God would prefer us to sort out a coffee break." my wife responded. I think she may be right.  Love shared is God shared, and what better way to share love and life than having a coffee break.
We have been told we are "not viable" as a congregation. We are just a small group of mostly elderly people but the love and friendship between the group makes us more than viable. The regular gathering is worthwhile, healthy and life giving, even if we don't obey directions.