Friday, January 24, 2014

In a rubbish sack?

Perhaps it’s a personal sensitivity about death and dying these days but I get a bit cross about the frequent TV commercials promoting funeral insurance. I am a little surprised that the Funeral Director’s Association seems to have been quiet about some misrepresentation of their profession but I respect the dignity of their silence.
However, I really wonder how some children feel about the idea of a pleasant grandfatherly figure objecting to being “put out on the road in a rubbish sack” as though this were conceivably possible.
I am all for a realistic, frank and open view of death and dying. (Bev says I am much too frank; she says that when people say, “G’day,. Dave, how are you?” and I give them a brief medical report, complete with my PSA trends, that’s not what they actually want...).
And I have no problem with humour in the context of death. People who enjoy my Murder Mystery Dinners will suggest that my sense of humour is pretty macabre. But we don’t encourage young children to buy tickets to our shows. That’s not a matter of any possible breach of any standard. It’s just recognising that there’s an appropriate time, place and audience for some kinds of humour.

I think that sensitivity is missing in the timing of the “rubbish sack”. 

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Is it right?

At last night’s Paihia meeting on the Unitary Authority which is proposed to replace four large local bodies, I let off a little steam.
Before the meeting I had privately cautioned chair Grant Harnish that he should restrain me should I try to speak. And I managed to restrain myself for most of the evening. But after the wishes of the meeting became clear and someone accidentally delivered me a perfect “hook”, not even the anxiety on Grant’s face nor the inconvenience of an overwhelming hot flush could stop me. I jumped up and expostulated against the basic assumption that in this day and age we need “local” government that is becoming less and less local.
This morning I was reading Charles Dickens’ A Tale of Two Cities on my phone. I came across an inconspicuous phrase which he used to describe how people just blindly accepted the horrors of inhuman justice in the law courts and gallows of 1775. The phrase was, “Whatever is, is right”
Last night, people seemed to be saying, something like that. They were accepting the Far North District Council is, therefore it must be right. So there was not a lot of energy to ask, “How shall we change the basis of representation?”; “How should we alter the boundaries?”; “How can we get better decision-making?” Though plenty of people wanted to know how much it would save, or whether people in our region would have to share in the huge debt in Kaipara; and where would they go to discuss building applications.
There was no mention of the little elephant that I saw in the corner of the hall. It was taken for granted that Local Government of any kind is, therefore it must be right. I reject that.
It seems to me that when a review comes along, we should ask ourselves “Do we actually need a model of democracy that was appropriate for England in 1888?” The NZ Local Government Commission is not charged to ask that basic question. The present Councillors don’t ask it. Last night’s meeting certainly wasn’t set up to discuss it. And my intemperate outburst probably didn’t help anyone to even see the issue.
The 1888 English County Councils were given authority to manage all aspects of health, welfare, schools, police and every kind of social services for people in their regions. Today, in this country, almost all those functions are overseen by central government. District and Regional Councils manage merely Water, Waste, Ways, Whatever and, oh, yes, Welcomes. Almost all of these could be managed just as well on a national basis. Then we could establish truly local government in local communities where there is passion and drive and enthusiasm.
The Unitary Authority proposal didn’t get the thumbs up in Paihia last night. It has a long way to go through the tortuous, expensive and fragile process of fine-tuning the system that is. The Commission may go ahead and tweak the system; it may not.
But perhaps, some day, the underlying question will be addressed.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Computer evangelism

I pressed a couple of wrong keys on the parish computer a few weeks ago. Ever since, a kindly fellow called Jamie has been sending us emails congratulating us on downloading some kind of program and begging us to use it. Apparently it will change our lives.
Of course, this means we have to pay something, which was not at all what I had envisaged. So we have ignored Jamie and tried to get on with life. But the letters kept coming, getting warmer and even more friendly, all ostensibly signed by this charming Jamie.
Around the turn of the New Year, one of these emails earnestly enquired after my health and welfare. Being touched by the depth of his concern, but also somewhat cynical, I replied in the same serious tone expressing my great appreciation for his concern over my advanced prostate cancer. I shared the fact that we were having to move. I poured out my heart about the difficulties I was having in making a break with our very special church and community. I told him how hard it was to decide what to keep and what to throw out as we completely re-organise our lives around a smaller home a long way from here. And I ended by again expressing my thanks for his interest and suggesting that there might not be any point in future emails.
Since then, we still had regular emails from Jamie, all no doubt generated by the same computer. The last three have all said, successively, this is positively and absolutely the last and final chance for this discount. You have to admire him for his persistence.

I wonder if I am as zealous in inviting people to experience the wonderful things I have experienced in the faith which is so important to me. Have I got that persistent edge of evangelical zeal? On the other hand, if I do, does it sound like it was generated in a computer?

Friday, January 17, 2014

The "Residential Village Church"

As I am winding up my association with Bay of Islands Parish and its long history of Local Shared Ministry, I can’t help reflecting on the congregation we had at Russell.
For more than two decades, leaders from Paihia have crossed the Bay to bring a weekly service to the small membership there. None of them was ever called to the Ministry Team. They did not participate in Parish Council Meetings and rarely joined in parish social events. But they faithfully turned up Sunday by Sunday even as the congregation gracefully dwindled through death.
Those who coin names for styles of churches might have called them a “Hospice Church”. They couldn’t do much for themselves but we ministered to them and supported them as they saw out their days as a congregation. 
Now I hear that one or two are suggesting our Paihia congregation is going the same way. True, they’ve suffered losses, too—and not all by the natural processes of death and dying. And as Bev and I leave to move nearer to family and a smaller home there are serious questions about who will do some of things that we have done as ordinary members of the congregation. It is a scary time for the special friends we leave behind.
But, if Paihia is to lie down and declare itself a Hospice Church so that everyone can just sit there on Sundays and be looked after, where are the people who will come from outside to minister to it?
A better model, from my personal experience over these past weeks, is what I will call the “Residential Village Church”. A residential village is also a place where people will probably see out their lives. But it is nothing like a hospice. It’s full of participants who are young in heart and mind, who are active in their communities, who are involved in the village’s affairs and who are dedicated to making the most of their lives. If they can’t add years to their lives they are certainly putting life into their years.
That seems to me to be the model for the small, ageing church. It won’t attempt to do all the stuff that more vigorous churches do. It will look for the things it can do best and it will put its limited energies into what produces the most results. It will develop its own spirit and ethos and lifestyle.

Local Shared Ministry may still be the model that enables this kind of life to flow. It will call people to do things they didn’t know they could do. It will enable every member to feel a vital part of what is going on. It will challenge but it will also encourage. And it will bring pleasure and strength to its members and its community.

Words! Words

One of the precious things I uncovered during the sorting frenzy over past weeks was a letter from my mother about forty years ago.
"David," she said, "You use too many big words"... When it came to writing books, her brief comment sometimes guided me well, but occasionally was completely forgotten.
More significant, in the days of computer keyboards, was my propensity (Sorry, Mum) for long, tortured sentences. Churchill could write in that style but my long suffering editor Graham tried to discourage me from doing it.
But words or sentences continue to intrigue and satisfy me while also being challenging and demanding. I guess I enjoy writing.
So it was encouraging to read, on my sleepless smartphone at 3am, in GK Chesterton's The Man Who Knew Too Much, that his hero, Horne Fisher, "drank no wine, but was intoxicated with words".
I think I know what he meant. I hope it is an acceptable intoxication.

Moving on

Busy days over Christmas and New Year. The sorting and throwing and packing has gone on apace but we also had some great times for visiting family. I made one more hike along the whole of the Aramahoe to Paihia walk with grandson Tim—something I could never have done twelve years ago before the half-knee operations.

And this year we sang a lot of carols. Our worship leaders included more than usual and our people are great singers. Of course they love the traditional and the familiar ones. 
At Christmas it seemed right not to ask too many questions about the images and myths from other ages. We just enjoyed the music and the atmosphere. There are other times in the year to ask the hard questions about what we sing and say and pray.
I hope Bev and I will be in churches where those questions are explored as our life begins to take a different direction.
Our villa at Hibiscus Coast Retirement Village is being refurbished, but slowly, we suspect. We still expect to pick up the keys on 28 Feb. At the same time we’ll pick up a mortgage on the unsold home in Paihia— this is not a good time for selling around here.
It’s going to be hard to leave this place but it’ll be great to be closer to Auckland family and we’re sure this is the right thing to be doing at this time. That’s OK.