Friday, 24 April 2015

*Lest we forget - the cost of remembering*

We gathered at 5.45am this morning, the old, the babes in arms and the many who don’t usually see that time of day. The turnout was massive for such a tiny town, for this, our first ANZAC Day dawn service in Ngaruawahia.

We stood in silence, watching the lights from the fire vehicles as the volunteer fire brigade members marched onto the grass area just south of the town, which for today is hallowed ground. Named white crosses stood in neat rows, symbolising those brave Waikato boys who still wait in neat formation on a corner of Turkish soil.

It’s hard to believe it’s a hundred years since the slaughter of Gallipoli and that nobody remains anymore to tell the tales. When I was growing up in the 1970’s Royal Air Force, I remember the heroes from World War One who came to talk to us in our school on the barracks, shaking, elderly old men, warning us of the horror of war and serving as a portend that there are no winners, only losers. They were our friends’ great-grandfathers, missing limbs, ears, limping, their bodies functioning around shrapnel and bullets lodged too far to be retrieved. They were real people and we loved them, respecting those injuries like medals.

They’re no longer here. My children will never meet a man who suffered in the trenches of The Great War. They have slipped from our grasp, taking their injuries and nightmares with them. But this morning we remembered them.

Poppies outside the RSA greeting the dawn risers for breakfast

We stood in the cold pre-dawn of a New Zealand Saturday, a few hundred souls clustered around the reminder of a town’s lost sons. The Last Post was haunting as the bugle notes drifted around the town, farewelling a generation who gave up so much. How the hearts of those survivors must have ached as Europe plunged itself back into war only twenty-one years later, just in time to rob them of their sons as it had their friends two decades before.

Names outside the RSA

My grandfather served in the Second World War and he told me once, “We remember, dear, but we don’t learn.” How right he was. I thought about George Allen's words this morning as I stood in the darkness before a field of white crosses, knowing that other sons and daughters are still being lost and will continue to give their lives in this way, until man has devastated every continent in this world.

My son's march out in 2012 NZ Army

Accounts vary, but it’s believed around 200 Waikato men lost their lives on the first day of fighting in Gallipoli. 200 cold, factual telegrams to distraught mothers, some of whom lost more than one son. Many of those women couldn’t read. Imagine them knowing what it said in their hearts but running miles to find someone able to confirm their worst fears. Or the poor postie having to break the same news, over and over again. It’s heart breaking. The Waikato River must have swollen with the tears of its women and the sound of crying surely overshadowed the usual hum of life on the Hakarimata Ranges. Gone, just like that. They were never returned to the whenua and never put to rest, terrible for anyone, but desperately so for Maori.

The Returned Services Association did an amazing job this morning, caring for the living afterwards with a free breakfast back at their place. Their entrance foyer is filled with the names of their lost, those who set off for pastures new and never saw these hills again. It’s astounding just how many men 200 would look like in such a spread out rural area. It doesn’t bear thinking about. It was misty this morning over the river, waves of vapour rolling off like tides of grief.

Today we remembered.

But is it enough? Truly remembering would be working to honour their memory with peace but as this world cascades into increasing violence, we are left standing in the dark, wishing we had something more to bring our dead comfort.

Sooner or later, we really need to learn.

That would honour them.

The crocheted poppy in the RSA

Saturday, 18 April 2015

*The Church as Living, na.*

If the church really wanted to survive the onslaught of the 21st century, it would go back to the bible and the concept of Living Water.

The Waikato River from above our house

Through a conversation with a very good friend recently, it came to me that the church itself is a fluid thing, although I don’t think that’s what Jesus necessarily meant when he used the phrase. Churches fill and churches empty, like a reservoir. During winter it’s full to overflowing and the building isn’t big enough, there aren’t enough chairs and the workers burn out just trying to man the kitchen for coffee afterwards. The mistake leaderships make though, is to try and build as though it will be the same forever more. They fundraise and prayerfully covet more space in which to put everyone, instead of planning for the dry season and investing in the quality of the water.

I’ve heard it so many times. ‘Our church is growing, come on in.’

I’ve been in and tried, I really have. But it swirls around me and I get lost in the sheer volume. There’s often a whirlpool at the centre where the happening stuff takes place, but I can’t get near that and I’m not sure I’d want to. The people treading the fiercest currents are frantic, busy people and everyone hangs back, watching to see who gets sucked in next. They either come out stronger with a victorious shout of hallelujah, or drown and are never seen again.

“Anyone interested in children’s work?”
“Anyone available at short notice to man the greeting desk...?”

The river starts at Mount Ruapehu, Lord of the Rings country
There are pools of stagnancy in the reservoir of a full church, pockets of stinky water that never quite make it near the filters for a variety of reasons. So those members stay polluted in the corners and have small groups where they produce green scum in copious amounts. No amount of algae chemicals squirted from the centre can ever kill that kind of secondary misery. It needs a heady concentration aimed at the primary cause and that kind of intervention in a big church is rare. But it is a game changer when it happens for those people if done in love and they become a blessing wherever they go.

The pressure from the constant winter downpours force those who once floated near the centre, out to the sides, bumping them against hard walls and making them feel disconnected from the whole. They might splash over the top and end up somewhere different altogether, running away down cracks or fissures unseen by anyone else, not missed until it’s too late.

One of two things inevitably happen to a full church, over which there is no human control. If they’re very unlucky, it can be both at once.

1. The dam gates open.
2. Drought comes.

There’s nothing sadder than a leaky church. I’ve witnessed a whole church building in an acre of grounds, maintained and funded by four people. They wanted to do Alpha so badly, the small group I was part of ran it ourselves and found money for the food. It was clear God held that place in the palm of his hand and had great purpose for it and they plodded on in that belief, faithfully ploughing and hoeing for his pleasure alone. Drought hadn’t come for them, but the dam gates cranked open one dark winter night when their pastor was caught in infidelity. The congregation flooded out and left a few small drips in the bottom of the reservoir, growing more desperate with each lick of the sunshine.

New Zealand drought can be pretty horrific for farmers

I live on the banks of the Mighty Waikato River and we lose the bottom ten metres of our paddock twice a year to flooding, sometimes more. It never happens on the day of the rains but the day after, when Karapiro Dam gets too full and those pesky gates part in the middle and send out the excess, cascading down the mountains and onto my back lawn without warning. Nobody phones me but I’m ready for it. When it’s a big enough downpour, I’m on the Environment Waikato website, watching the water volume push through from Mount Ruapehu and estimating it’s headed our way. 

Our boundary fence is under there somewhere
We go out in the pouring rain and move the standards, tape and battery for the electric fence, carting it all up out of range and placing everything at the safer level. We move the horses to higher ground because although they like to dance and play in floodwaters, they aren’t so keen when it comes at them suddenly in the middle of the night and they have nowhere to go. Then we wait. Sometimes nothing happens. The river deals with the excess and all is well. Other times we wake up next morning and all we can see is the river, fifty metres wide and growing. It’s raging, filthy and dangerous.

It’s like dissatisfied people pouring from a church, hurting, desperate and taking their crap with them. The dam gates are open and they’re cut loose and ready to fell trees with their bare hands. They end up down river, crashing around and filtering into other unsuspecting churches, pouring in and pouring out, taking the fittings with them.

My children fishing in the back paddock - bit weird but hey

A drought empties the church-reservoir over time, sometimes in a matter of weeks but usually more timely, drip by precious drip. Farmers and news commentators start peering over the sides with worried faces because in NZ, drought can get pretty serious. Local councils put homes onto water restrictions and everyone starts noticing and talking about it, gazing at the sky hopefully for a small downpour. Everyone relaxes temporarily after a shower - a new couple have shown an interest and come for a few weeks but then they disappear. It’s not for them; they won’t be back. Panic stations. The reservoir is evaporating, the church is losing ground; everyone knows it. Let’s have meetings and run around screaming and beating our breasts. How can we make them come back?

So what does the church actually do?

It holds onto the remaining store with a vice like grip, coveting and squeezing the last drops of life out of it. It’s all bad news, not just natural progress or part of life. It drives its people to fulfill more duties and donate more time and money. It looks around, desperate for new initiatives and depletes its current workers as they get burnt out, fed up and depressed with the situation. We’ve walked into churches in this state; six bright believing faces in a sea of doom. They left us sitting on the back row of an evening service and had a party out front, praising God for revival, as they’d been praying for it only that morning. Then they suggested we leave as they were going to be praising for a while and it might be a bit boring for us. Oops. Someone ran out after us, remiss at having not captured our phone number and we made an excuse and left. “Don’t call us, we’ll call you!”

My back garden in flood. When life turns to crap
wear pink welly boots.

One church I was part of for years, has been dying the entire time. Every week was a body count which got frustratingly mundane. They prayed faithfully for revival whilst upsetting everyone in the congregation. It was the pastor’s fault, so they got rid of him. The new pastor was meant to be the answer to their prayers.

Oops! Let’s not put money into educating the congregation in how to be self-sufficient in God when this drought really strikes, no, let’s refurbish the lounge for all the people who will day...maybe...when we stop handcuffing them to the chairs.

The early church had no walls. It was a body of people who met anywhere marginally safe.
Didn’t Pentecost land in someone’s spare bedroom on a whole heap of people gathered there just chilling?

Maybe that’s why itinerant churches work so well. One week they’re in a school hall and the next a leisure centre, a friendly cafe or a pub. There’s connection, anyone can plop into a seat and nobody cares what colour the carpet is. It’s a fluid, moving thing. If there’s drought, meet somewhere smaller and have quality time. A long weekend is a dam opening for them because most people clear off to the beach; they don’t have a crisis meeting.

In abundant times, churches sit down and shop for carpets while
clouds gather and the dam controller puts his finger over the switch
I just wish I could get my message across to the churches I watch agonise and struggle. Because it’s almost always about money. The congregation are the fund bringers. Without them the pastor’s income is gone, the building is turned into a luxury home and the ministry dies.

But that’s the point! It’s the parable of the talents. The church is burying its giftings, trapping them in buildings and digging big holes to throw it all into. It doesn’t plant, it sucks dry and complains.

When they’ve got it good, leaderships should be investing in the people who bring their funds and gifts. Show them how to BE good Christian members of any body, however big or small, even if it’s miles away downriver. They need to work out how to bless those passing through - sorry, but it is passing through. Nobody stays static forever. We’re all on a journey, whether crashing along riverbanks or evaporating slowly and without fanfare.

If your Sunday School, Ladies Ministry or Worship team rely on one person to co-ordinate it all, boy are you in trouble!

The church needs to stop counting its coffers in the shape of bums on seats and invest for the good of the harvest. Then it will receive an abundance of others rushing through from a different dam or rainfall, fresh, clean and ready to share its nourishment, filtered and cleaned by another church pastor who waved them off with a glad heart and a tear in his eye. He didn't pay them a home visit, bribe them with a deacon's hat or turn nasty when they still wanted to leave. He equipped them and wished them well.

Change the mantra from grow and plant to heal and in-reach or keep driving us all away, like a woman who talks constantly about her ex on a date.

Rant over. It rained heavily all weekend and I have fences to move...

#church #spirituality #churchlife

Friday, 17 April 2015

*Today's Church - where is the Love?*

I realise by blogging about the Church, I risk all kinds of negative feedback, but it's hard to sit on your hands forever and the keyboard calls. 

My situation at the moment is that I am currently one of the millions of churchless believers in the world, still loving God but nomadic and isolated by my inability to fit into a warped mold. 

I became a Christian in the tiny town of Market Harborough, England in the year 2000 and was quickly embraced into a good church made up of people who loved God and kept their theological argument largely to themselves. The pastor was a solid guy and offered sound teaching, which has carried me through the subsequent fifteen years. He once gave a preach about love in the church and played a song by the Black Eyed Peas, Where is the Love? He didn't endorse the song, but he asked the question; where in this church, is the love?

Fifteen years on and I find myself in no-man's land in New Zealand, a country which claims Christianity but attacks its own founding values like the sea erodes the land, slowly, deliberately and constantly. The national flag is under threat of change and following that, will be the national anthem, changed from its current prayer, to some politically correct tune which effectively removes God from this country once and for all. 

God of nations, at thy feet, 
In the bonds of love we meet,
Hear our voices we entreat,
God defend our free land...

From a blessed Christian upbringing of six years in my safe church in England, I was thrust into a world of megalomaniacs and power brokers. I have witnessed spiritual abuse, moral abuse, financial recklessness and pride, sitting next to me in the pews of the NZ church. The buzz word is 'growth' and everyone wants your bum on a seat in their place and your bank account squirting money into the coffers so they can grow, grow, grow until they're fit to bursting and then they can build and grow, grow, grow some more. Love rarely comes into it, unless you're bank rolling that particular activity.

I found a safe, godly knot of women at my first church and I have stuck with them through it all. We are largely disenfranchised, meeting in the lounge of a church which slowly dies around us and struggles to fund itself from the receding congregation. I watched it move from a state of thriving and beginning to touch the surrounding community, to dying a slow, painful death through megalomaniac style leadership and the sin of personal pride. It breaks my heart but it's a scenario I've seen too many times here and I bowed out gracefully before I got wounded in the inevitable crash, as I did before; and the time before that.

I don't think I'm a bad person. I'm happy to serve, to wash up after Alpha or give financial support to a valuable ministry. I'm not a people-person by any stretch of the imagination, so give me a wall to paint by myself and don't stick me anywhere out front. I'll happily share my gifts. I can paint murals or perform administrative duties, I have time on my hands and am a famed OCD cleaner. So they shove me in the Sunday School because nobody else wants to be there. It's not gonna end well. It never does. 

I sell my paintings for money, but they're ok in that department thanks. Mrs So-and-so is better and has that covered. I can't stand inane conversation, my life is too short, so they have me on the door, handing out leaflets and smiling like a zombie. I won't hug strangers and I don't like talking all that much. Epic fail. 

So I stand around and watch the 'doers' burn out one by one and still they don't need or want me. I won't be in their in-crowd because I don't know what the secret password is. We won't be the golden family, because we're not recently saved and still glowing from the flush of all that attention. We were once, fifteen years ago in a different land but not here, not now.

I'm nervous of new churches. I'm meant to be in the body of Christ but it neither wants nor needs me. It picks through my qualifications and largely settles on my husband's wallet or his endless IT skills. He can fix their computers and pay their bills. Unless I want to lead a ladies ministry or head up the children's church, I'm kinda redundant. 

Yesterday, I posted a picture online of a tee shirt I made but don't yet have the courage to print or wear. The response was overwhelming from other disenfranchised Christians who would be willing to pay good money for it. I was astounded that there were people like me out there, drifting around and digging in their bible for answers about why they don't fit either.

My husband says he won't sit next to me if I wear it to a new church. It know it makes me look bitter and twisted in my Christian outlook and that's a bad thing. But I'm desperate to wear it. I want people to say, "Nice tee shirt," and smile, but I know they won't. They'll stay as far away from me as humanly possible and hope I never darken their door again. "Did you see that woman on Sunday?" they'll ask and describe my tee shirt, but not me.

I miss talking about God and hearing little stories that bless my heart; like how He was there when someone's car broke down in the rain, or He softened a mother's heart towards another in the playground. I want to hear how He found the lost contact lens or 'lost' the text which should never have been sent. I know about the big stuff. I know God provides airfares and sends lost sons home to frantic mothers. I know He gives peace in the worst of times and direction in the storm. I've seen it with my own eyes. It's the human contact I'm missing but at this rate, I'm doomed to sharing truth and love in whispers in work corridors and supermarket aisles. 

Today's church. 
Am I missing something?
Where is the love?


Saturday, 4 April 2015

*Cartoons - subliminally attacking our children's relationships*

My husband loves cartoons. I’m not convinced he actually watches them, but uses them as a way of switching off from the world as the myriad of colours dance past his eyes. 

Husband, eldest daughter and his brother, sister and niece watching TV

I was editing this morning and glanced up to see two interesting alien characters having a conversation about love on our TV and my husband laid on the floor with his glazed eyes trained on the screen. He used to claim the children had it on, but well...we've been on our own since the beginning of the year...with Spongebob and these colourful aliens. Just sayin'.

Ooh, this is a bit different, I thought, tuning into the two dimensional drama. It was basically a scene in which a sexy lady robot had been encouraged to have feelings for a human dressed in blue lycra with pointy ears. Without ceremony and with only a hinted at apology, the blue lycra human dumped the poor sexy robot lady, with a lame excuse and an attempt at humour. The word ‘love’ was used numerously and the poor lady was left with a fried computer component, unable to process the awful rejection.

Cut to the next scene and the sexy lady robot is exacting her revenge. She’s saved the world, turned off her emotional component and is intent on ruling a group of other robot misfits as their queen. In other words, she's throwing herself into her work.

Sucks to be you, human with pointy ears in blue lycra

Off she flies, spitting venom and the animation of the blue guy’s face hints at guilt...but not for long.


So, let’s get this straight, the message to this vulnerable next generation is: when rejection comes, which it will, wrap your heart in barbed wire and wreak havoc on everyone around because you have the right.

As if that wasn’t disturbing enough, the following cartoon depicted more two dimensional people with unusual triangular faces. They were also talking about love in disturbing images.

“I don’t love my special friend anymore,” one character claimed.

That’s ok,” said his orange friend, “cash it in and get another one.”

Oh my goodness! And we wonder what’s wrong with the world? Seriously?

Yes, as a parent I was guilty of using the TV as an unpaid babysitter while I cleaned, ironed and prepared meals as the mother of four children under four with a husband who worked odd shifts. Fortunately for me, although I didn’t think so at the time, our house was freezing during the winter months and the only place I could take my coat off was the living room, which was heated by an open fire. So when the weather outside was the wrong side of unpleasant and playing in the snow not something anyone wanted to do for more than half an hour, I sat with my cartoon-watching children and peeled potatoes into the washing up bowl and breastfed.

I’m embarrassed now when I remember thinking Johnny Bravo was more hot than jerk (yeah, I know) and that Ed, Ed and Eddie were actually funny. I sat through cartoon Spiderman and non-cartoon versions of other things which we all still remember fondly. The Queen’s Nose, The Worst Witch, yeah I had my fill. Choked off, would be more accurate.
Follow link below to see more cartoon memes

I can’t watch so much as a Disney movie now and dread having grandchildren that want to go to the movies instead of making brooches, painting pictures or chalking outside on the pavement to play hopscotch. But I’ll deal with it when it comes. I’ll be that grandma!

Maybe cartoon makers back when my children were young made as much effort to subliminally alter their view of life and what’s more worrying, is they probably succeeded without me realising. Would I, as an exhausted mother who probably hadn’t enjoyed an unbroken night’s sleep for four years, actually notice some cartoon character making free with my children's view of life, love and friendship?

Nobody said it would be easy
No way.

I was just glad of the chance to have my own thoughts for a moment before the next onslaught of tears, snot or poo.

What I watched this morning was worrying.
Does anyone care that the next generation is being influenced by hidden messages which attack the nature of relationship, whether it be between family, friends or potential spouses?

My girls seem to be turning out ok as adults, aren't they?
Please don’t tell me I’m the only one who’s noticed....

#parenting #mothers #kidsfun