Water Cooler Discussions

Tom Hanks stared in the movie “Cast Away” which was released in cinemas about 15 or 16 years ago. Despite this now being considered a dated movie, there is one ‘character’ that I found enduring and memorable: Wilson.  For those of you who don’t know the movie, or if your memory has failed you, Wilson was the ball that became the imaginary friend/companion and point of sanity for the main character Chuck Noland, played by Tom Hanks.  Chuck and Wilson adapt to daily life on a deserted island as they wait for rescue…some day.

Wilson the Volleyball


For one of the first times in my life I work a lot from a home office.  In the past I have worked in offices (sometimes up to four different offices at any one time) with colleagues and staff members.  In one particular parish I was the sole employee which I discovered, meant that I was the on-call plumber, secretary and pastor.  I began joking with synod staff that as the secretary I would write a note for the rector if dates in the calendar were open for the furnace inspector to come by.  Me, myself and I.

The most creative time in my own ministry have been in moments where clergy and staff met together on a weekly basis to check-in with our programs, challenge each other to think differently, and support each other in prayer, and have a genuine interest in our lives.  Communicating round the water cooler has been thought of in the past as a huge waste of time, and ultimately a drain on business.  Gathering with others for parts of the day, does however, make work more productive and creative.  I have to get up every once in a while and go to the kitchen and make myself a bottle of carbonated water (as one does in Germany).  The thing is that in these ‘water cooler moments’ in my ministry I am starting to talk to ‘Wilson’.  Don’t get me wrong, Wilson is great.  He laughs at all my jokes.  He agrees with all my plans.  Sometimes Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther chip in their two cents into our discussions as they stare from their picture frames.  Did they just nod in quiet agreement?!

Before you get too concerned, it is more an observation about my own adjustment to a different mode of daily work.  Of course my day is spent with people such as family (including the dog who in reality thinks he is a person), peers in planning meetings, ecumenical partners, and those sheep in the flock of the church.

These various interactions are in a sense, purely functional, as we meet and gather with a purpose.  We meet: to plan our council.  We meet: to pray.  We meet: to read the Bible together.  But when do we really meet to just hang around the water cooler and dream?  When do we meet and go deeper in our conversations?  When do we get a chance to speak of our loves and our irritations? Instead, we might let things come to a boiling point and have a momentary outburst.  Instead, we might find ourselves interacting in different ways.  Wilson thinks I am right.  Right Wilson.  Wilson?!

Having just finished reading a short book entitled “Story: How to tell our story so the world listens.”, by Babette Buster as part the “DO Book Co.” series; we live, I live, in an office environment that makes me feel connected (via the copious emails I receive daily) but in reality I am skimming the surface of real connection.  Buster writes, “As they [people of today] are no longer being shaped by a storytelling world, they seem to lack the will to dig deeper, preferring to surf in the immediate.” (pages 11-12)

Now, how is it that I connect with people in the church when so many of our interactions are functional, and I have limited water cooler time?  Currently, I am gaining a curious mind because I always wonder what makes people tick.  What are the stories behind the people.  What are the deeper relationships and meanings behind the frictions that arise as part of being in community?  Maybe a virtual water cooler discussion might begin, as Wilson is just nodding in agreement.  Maybe our time together…although some might see it as time wasting, is really the fruit of a deeper commitment in discovering the Spirit within each other.  Jesus met a woman at the well, and this raised eyebrows even among his disciples, yet in the end it dramatically changed a persons life, and brought the seeking of an entire village after this deep message.


A Tale of Two Cities…or three, or four

A wise friend and colleague once told me in my training that one should never return home to the parish church after a holiday and tell the folks how great it was to get away.  That has always been in my mind, and I use it as a preface to my observations from a short holiday following Easter Day.

Having friends situated round the world in different careers and in different locations makes for relatively inexpensive vacations.  After all the joyous Easter celebrations concluded the family and I set out to Sarajevo where we would stay with some old friends.  It was one thing to meet our friends and see their expanding family; it was another to be in a truly foreign city.  Sarajevo is a city that holds personal interest for me as I can remember tuning in, almost obsessively, to the CBC radio (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) broadcasts of the civil war and the UN peace keeping  mission. It was at a time in my life when I felt truly between things having graduated from high school, yet still discerning a job, or further education.  A friend who had chosen a career in the Canadian military was posted to Sarajevo as his first mission trip with the Canadian Armed Forces…he still does not talk about what he witnessed in Sarajevo.  It is with this history and background that we touched down in Sarajevo.

One of the first things that hit me once we landed was the smell.  Dragging a small carry-on bag through the parking lot to find the car of our friends was an assault to the lungs of an asthmatic.  You could feel the dust and diesel pollution on your cheeks as you walked.  Needless to say, not all is dust and grime…but there is a fair amount of corruption.  Police were stopping vehicles with foreign license plates as we exited the airport parking lot. We were told by our friend that it was the end of the month and the police were looking to make their payments (aka bribes for mundane offences).  I was glad we traveled in a car with diplomatic license plates.

As we drove down the chaotic street still referred to as ‘snipper alley’ there were old buildings full of gaping war scars beside gleaming towers of glass modernity.  The stark differences in the scenery did not stop there.

For some, Sarajevo is referred to as the Jerusalem of Eastern Europe as you can find a mosque, a church and a synagog in close proximity.  It was the first time I had travelled to a predominately muslim country, and the calls to prayer from the minarets had a peaceful quality to them as one could see a man standing on each pinnacle of the individual mosques.  Despite this stated willingness to have different faiths living in one city, it was evident as to who were the minorities, as many veiled tourists roamed the streets, and as there are direct flights to and from gulf nation states.  One synagog is now a museum, and the Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches show the scars of war on the outsides of their buildings.  The Roman Catholic cathedral has a ‘Sarajevo Rose’ on its front steps – an explosion site of a rocket propelled grenade that the city paints red as I reminder of the trauma and destruction of war.

A hilly city, our view point from the home of friends rested above the city centre, where honking, smog, and the howls of thousands of feral dogs rose up through the night; and peasants and beggars rang the doorbell in the morning.  With a significant number of people unemployed there is another sharp division in the city of those who have, and those who have not.  At one point in time as we explored the old shopping area of the city, a shinny black Mercedes G Wagon with tinted windows picked up some dignitary and sped off through the crowded streets like an abduction had just taken place.  In a country with three presidents who govern for eight month periods, the stark differences, and I would say injustices, are brought to the forefront simply by looking at the vehicles, and armoury that is used compared to that of the everyday citizen’s experience of having trouble paying their electrical bills.

The trauma of war is still very present in the city where people stick to the sidewalks and children learn to identify what a landmine looks like in grade school.  Yet, in the city where the street car was first run there is hope.  The multitudes of people ride on street cars that were given by other European cities as part of the rebuilding.  It will surely take more than a streetcar, or two, to bring prosperity and ongoing peace to this city, country and region.

With a short trip away it is with new eyes that I enter into my continued work and ministry in Freiburg.  This morning the church leaders in the intercity met to continue our plans for  Pentecost worship together.  The backgrounds, languages and imaginations came together to plan how we might, as Christians, unite in worship on a day that celebrates unity in diversity.