The refit was not the only change. In the last year 12 Australian chain stores have declared bankruptcy. New stores, many of them the ‘discount’ variety had filled the spaces. And the shop assistants are different. We were mainly served by teenagers. It seemed to me that in many stores a million dollars of product was watched over by school leavers. They neither calculated, counted nor wrapped, and seldom gave advice. Rather their main job was to stack, swipe, bag, and pass over a long detailed computer -created receipt. “Have a lovely day’ was the mandatory mantra with which they concluded every transaction.
Then there were my personal changes.
We visited one of the perfect beaches on the Sunshine Coast. Our nieces and nephews (some great nieces and great nephews) shrieked with delight as they dived into the one metre swell. I remember doing that. How I loved it. Watching, I was suddenly aware that now I would be frightened to take this plunge. I had to face the fact that although I still have the mind of a sixteen-year-old, my body is knocking on 80.
If ever I needed to be reminded of this, all I had to do was to see my reflection in a shop window. “Who is that old geezer with a face somewhat like mine? “
The most jarring assault on my self-esteem came in the retirement home where Pauline’s mum, Eileen lives. I needed to go out to the car and found that the exit door was controlled by a keypad code. I asked for help. My helper look quizzically. “Are you sure you want to go out”? he asked. ‘Yes’ I replied. “Will you be ok?” “Yes” I replied again. He was not convinced. “Ok”, he said. “I will come with you.” The penny dropped. “He thinks I am one of the dementia residents!”
We have been here in sunny south-east Queensland over the Christmas season. Despite the fact that Christmas songs (not many carols) are playing in the stores, I have heard no mention of the Bible story of Christmas. On TV and radio, I have heard many people talk of what Christmas means to them. None of them referred to the Christian Christmas, no mention of the birth of Jesus. Several of them went out of their way to make it clear that they were not religious. One person of the many interviewed was religious and she was Buddhist.
I am beginning to think I am a dinosaur – a luddite! My life has been committed to something that doesn’t matter – that makes no sense to my contemporaries. Hate talk is back in fashion; tougher sentences, bigger and better weapons are the answer. "Look after our own. Pull up the drawbridge and enjoy the good life we deserve.” Really!
We have met lots of people. They are all doing fine. Nice houses, good cars and plenty of laughter. Just like the endless panel shows on TV. Bright, beautiful people who can analyse anything and from their couches put the world right. And on the drama/crime shows, even the young adults pouring over bodies are perfectly groomed and unstoppably positive. The TV shows, the panels and the ads show us people who are super bright and totally together. No wonder they laugh a lot.
Amongst the people we have talked to, once the joking stops, you begin to hear other messages and sense other tones - hurt, disappointment, anger, a feeling of lostness. I suspect that is the way it is with many people. Certainly, the superstar celebrities who have died in the last few weeks who had exotic five-star lifestyles and were the idols of millions all lived painful and conflicted lives.
So what about me? My life? The church? The gospel? Is there anything of value here?
Despite huge amounts of self-doubt, I believe there is. Mind you I am done with preaching because no one is listening. I don’t have the answers; in fact, I don’t think there are any simple answers to the personal and global problems that confront us. What does Jesus and the cross say? To me his life and ministry says, "keep on loving, no matter what. Keep on welcoming, keep on forgiving and never, never judge". Despite being old and an almost has-been I think there is one way I can communicate this message; - through being welcoming and supportive to all I meet. (oops - I can manage this some of the time - but not all of it). The only way the gospel (good news) can be communicated is by ‘being.' Get it?
And the purpose of our Church and Community Centre is to demonstrate this on a wider scale – as a community reaching out and welcoming in – no strings attached.
I think 2017 will have many challenges, personally, globally and nationally. I don’t believe there are any easy answers.
But as for me I am going to keep open to the Jesus spirit in every way I can, and, God helping me, live it. Despite everything I have said above, I still believe this will be a contribution of value.