Toll Roads

I received a phone call yesterday from a distressed mother. She lives out in the country, some 50 kilometres away. A number of years ago I had officiated at her wedding. It was one of those weddings that are hard to forget. Sixteen adults in the bridal party, not one having been to a wedding let alone in a church before. It was the wild West coming to town, and the dress sense of their guests verified it.

Time has moved on and she’s had a cluster of kids. She rang up the local Anglican Church and asked about baptism. The minister allegedly inquired about her church attendance and intentions in the future. Then he told her ‘No’.

So she rings Lucky Bear.

Now if there is one thing that can piss a bear off it’s judging a kid by their parents. In fact it’s judging period. Lucky doesn’t see baptism as a judgemental call about whether a person is fit, or their parents are fit, to join the church club.

Occasionally at St Matthew-in-the-City there is a baptism in the midst of the main service. Apart from an opportunity to expose and welcome the child and his/her family to the congregation, a baptism celebrates the central truth of the Christian faith – namely that we are loved unconditionally by God.

No matter what we’ve done, are doing, or will do, no matter what we look like, think like, and behave like, we are loved and accepted by God. There are no conditions to this, no fine print to the contract. You can be the worst manipulative abusive scumbag in the world and God will still love you unconditionally.

Once we start making rules about who can be baptised – like only those whose parents are part of the congregation, live in the area, profess creedal beliefs, will bring their kids to Sunday School, etcetera – we start to make the church a club and confine the love of God.

Other clergy, indeed most others it seems, argue that baptism is indeed an entrance rite and we denigrate its importance by not applying at least some criteria. The sacredness of the Church takes precedence over the unfettered love of God.

Sometimes Lucky Bear feels very lonely in the Church. Many other clergy and parishes don’t see the world, faith and God as he does. While Lucky has always seen himself as a mildly conservative, middle-of-the-road Christian some time in the last couple of decades the road has moved. More often than not these days he’s on the edge, amidst the gravel and in the rough, viewing the Church from the gutter.

One thing Lucky Bear cares passionately about is living out, in word and deed, the unconditional love of God. Baptism is the one sacrament that particularly proclaims that truth.

The public road called baptism that once virtually anyone in society could travel along because it belonged to no one and therefore to us all has now in many places been cleaned up and designated a toll road. Is it any wonder that the traffic is less? Is it any wonder that the wild ones stay away?


Rich Mix

Life is a rich mix here in the city.

On Sunday morning an elderly priest wandered in and sat down. As the service started I could see he was uncomfortable. He obviously didn’t share my interpretation of Holy Scripture or my opinions. Afterwards though he was gracious, declining to comment on our differences, and instead chatting about his home city of San Diego and his joy in coming to New Zealand.

As we talked another visitor came through the door. This gentleman could only speak Spanish, and I could see that our conversation was going to be brief. The San Diego priest however came to our aid and entered into a fuller dialogue. I left them to it. Some time later I was down in the kitchen area when these two gentlemen reappeared, being led by a woman I’ll call Jane.

Jane, who sleeps on a park bench, is a frequent visitor to the Church and on Sunday mornings I usually let her in around 6 a.m. She makes herself at home, plundering the staff fridge, putting water and coffee in her sugar, and taking over the bathroom. The bathroom is her thing. I think she washes her clothes and herself in there. Whilst washing Jane emits a high-pitched giggle which, with our wonderful acoustic, travels up the stairwell into the Nave. It is difficult to explain that giggle to the solemn visitors at 8 a.m. Mass. I no longer try.

The other thing about Jane is that, despite the bathroom, she stinks. I suppose its part and parcel of living on the street. Parishioners are remarkably tolerant of the strong odour, as were the two visitors on Sunday. They were touched that someone had extended hospitality, inviting them down to kitchen for a cuppa of tea.

Some time later I returned to the kitchen and the conversation was still going strong but with an increase in volume. I politely told them that a Buddhist monk was about to lead a meditation in the next room and some quieter tones were called for. They looked at me in a quizzical way.

Ah, it’s a rich mix here in the city. The brew is strong, and you’ll never know quite what you’ll find.


Amazing Grace

Occasionally grace takes your breath away.

There I was, Saturday morning, cradling my coffee, and reading the usual diet of death, despair, and scandal. Page 3 carried the headline “Tamahori busted in LA sex sting”. A famous New Zealand film director dressed in a black wig and off-the-shoulder dress had been arrested after offering sex for money to an undercover cop.

It was the sort of juicy story that newspapers and their readers love. The glamour of film and wealth, in the heathen heart of Hollywood, laced with kinky sex, takes a tumble at the hands of the law.

The journalists immediately pursued all who knew or worked with Lee Tamahori for comment, trying to make a big story bigger.

Enter Cliff Curtis, the well known New Zealand actor, who had worked with Lee on Once Were Warriors. Cliff’s comment was, “I didn’t know he did those kinds of things. I just hope he’s okay and his family and son are okay.”

My coffee cup stopped in midair and I re-read that comment. What a kind comment. What a loving generous response in the face of a media feeding frenzy. What amazing grace.

I spent the rest of the day in awe of Cliff Curtis.