Friday, 21 December 2012

Two Turtle Doves

I was at my folks place for dinner a few weeks back. While my ma was working away in the kitchen she handed me the last of a loaf of homemade bread and asked me to feed the doves who were wandering around on the deck outside.
“Just hold it in your hands, like this,” she said with her arms out wide on either side, “and they’ll come to you.”
Like any good daughter I did as I was told. I wooed the two turtle doves by speaking gently, moving slowly, and making cooing noises in the back of my mouth. They perched on my wrists and pecked from my hands. I was pleased.
My parents have this wonderful habit of welcoming strays and vagabonds into their midst; cats, dogs, birds, boys. These doves were no different. Nobody knows where they’ve come from, or where they return to when the day is done, but their presence outside the kitchen window is refreshing.
As I stood there with my hands full of bread and birds I sang to myself, “on the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me two turtle doves…” I pondered Christmas and the coming of Christ in our midst. I wondered at the way that God, in the Christ-child, spoke gently by moving slowly and making cooing noises in the back of his mouth. Wooing us and welcoming us into God’s family with open hands and outstretched arms, strays and vagabonds with a place to stay, a place to belong, a place to love and be loved.
Welcome home. Christ is coming. Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Gumboots and Grace and Growing Up

I have two secrets. Number one: secretly I am a tomboy and all I want to do is wear gumboots (or better still, bare feet) and climb fences and cross rivers. Number two: secretly I am a girly girl and all I want to do is wear dresses and put pretty ribbons in my hair. Those who know me say this is no secret at all.

I have recently rediscovered a poem I wrote for my dear friend Jane a few years back. We were only a few years old when we met, about three. Jane was a rural girl too – still is I’d say. Now that she’s all grown up she’s elegant and eloquent but can still sport a pair of gumboots like the best of us.

I remembered this poem because Jane has just returned from the UK after being away for a while. Ngaire’s back too, but just for the summer. We grew up together as well; working at the supermarket and writing notes in class.

I’m looking forward to reuniting with these two and with our other rural girls later this summer. Until then, this is for you ladies (I've taken creative licence because 'life is all about exaggeration');

Two Girls in Blue Dresses
Two girls in blue dresses
With the finest of gestures
Would never have pestered
For an immediate response.

But patiently waited
With breath that was bated
Lest their proposal be stated
As an outrageous idea.

And so there they sat;
With their hands in their laps
And their coats and their hats
On a hook by the door.

It is tough for a girl
With a string of white pearls
And a head of dark curls
To quietly sit.

Likewise with the other,
Who lacked naught but a brother
Yet required another
As her partner in crime.

With eyes wide and bright
They requested they might
Explore what great sights
Lay about in their midst.

It felt like forever
And they thought that they’d never
Hear a response as to whether
Or not they may go.

With a sip of her tea
And a pat on the knee
Each mother agreed
That indeed the girls could.

Promptly removed
Were their dresses and shoes
That remained, but unused
In a heap on the floor.

Gallivanting about
They’d cry and they’d shout
With the delight that they felt
For the things they had found.

Many a-days
Were spent in these ways
Though it was but a phase
In the life of these girls.

Even now they still meet
For a coffee and a treat -
Wearing shoes on their feet;
An acceptable attire.

These two dear friends, 
A bit like odds and ends,
Need never contend
For a place in the others heart.

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Let Me Go Wild

I love the wind. It makes me feel alive.

I grew up with a shelterbelt outside my bedroom window and blockading the backyard. Every now and then, when the wind was just right, we’d call up the neighbouring farmer and ask if we could fly our kites in his paddock. Sometimes the wind would funnel down the straight stretch of road where we lived and my brother and his boys would be out there with blue tarpaulins and car bonnets.

When I worked with the kids’ afterschool they’d go a little mad on days when the wind was up. I’d make them put on shoes and a jumper and they’d go wild in the wind; yelling and jumping and running. They’d always want to make kites with skewers and cellotape and scraps of paper, but they’d always break. So, we’d tie string to the handles of plastic shopping bags and twist the other end around sticks that had snapped off in the wind. Sticks, string and plastic bags and the kids would be caught up with the excitement until their parents came to take them home; worn out by the wind but wild nonetheless.

I caught the train from Picton to Christchurch on Saturday. I stood in the open air carriage as we travelled along the coast to Kaikoura and beyond with the bright blue sea of the Pacific Ocean that stretches all the way to South America. I went a little wild in the warm wind; singing and giggling and leaning further over the railing than I should have.

I felt alive. I felt like Mary from The Secret Garden when the household staff of her uncles’ manor would bundle her up and bustle her outdoors so she could learn again what it means to be alive.

Back in the carriage I sat down in my seat with my journal and a pen and a cup of tea that was going cold because I’d left it behind when I ran out to the open air carriage without a jumper and with my hair whipping about my face.

I felt alive out there with the dust and the wind and the wildlife and the view. Sometimes I forget what that’s like when I sit inside all day with books and pens and cups of tea. I want to keep rushing outdoors and remembering what it means to be wild. I want to keep wrestling with the wind and learning what it means to be alive.

Sunday, 28 October 2012

The Pilgrim

Almost five years ago I moved back home for the summer. Home to mum and dad’s, home to Katikati, and home to St Paul’s. I’d finished my study, I was just shy of twenty one, and I sure as heck didn’t know what I was going to do with my life.

I spent the summer house sitting and serving coffee at a local cafĂ©. By February I’d scored a job at the Katikati Community Centre. In the mornings I sat at the reception answering phones and practicing my happy face. In the afternoons I supervised kids after school, feeding them, and perfecting my angry face.

With a full time job, and finally some income, I moved into this place on Polley Cresent and purchased a piece of junk car (which has served me faithfully since). I didn’t know it at the time, but I was learning to make myself at home again. I was learning to live with these people in this place again. I was learning to love these people and this place again.

That same year I reduced my hours at the Community Centre and took on a job at St Paul’s as a Children and Families Pastor. The people of St Paul’s had nurtured my faith since I was a wee tot, and now they were entrusting me to do the same with the youngest members of the congregation.

It has been a privilege and an honour to journey with the people of St Paul’s and the people of Katikati over the last five years, and indeed, the last twenty five years. These people have been fellow pilgrims and I am grateful for the life we have shared together. Now, after all the years, I’ll be walking along this road with different travel companions, with a different community. I’ll see the people of St Paul’s at a distance, I’ll call out, and wave, and blow kisses.

 This is for the people who taught me how to walk, and have walked with me this far:

These restless feet will wander far from here
This humbled heart will ponder and not fear
These earnest eyes are fonder for these years
And when you see me yonder, call me near

Because I know;

I, I am home
I am loved
I belong

You, you are home
You are loved
You belong

We, we are home
We are loved
We belong

These weary feet will stumble and fall
These weathered hands will fumble and brawl
These listless lips will mumble and call
This heavy heart will crumble for all

But still I know;

I, I am home
I am loved
I belong

You, you are home
You are loved
You belong

We, we are home
We are loved
We belong

These homebound feet will follow the One who knows the way
These gentle hands will hold, and hope, and pray
These eager eyes will long to see the day
This hope-filled heart will find a place to stay

Because I know;

I, I am home
I am loved
I belong

You, you are home
You are loved
You belong

We, we are home
We are loved
We belong

Tuesday, 9 October 2012

Turangawaewae - A Place to Stand

On Saturday I stepped into Dennis’ shoes and danced around a while. He wore my scarf while we sang. This was the first time we’d met. We, along with a couple of hundred others, had gathered in a high school hall in Rotorua for the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of Aotearoa New Zealand (PCANZ). The General Assembly meets every two years and is attended by both pastors and lay people from throughout the country who meet to discuss and discern the direction of the church.
That morning Mark read to us these words from Colossians 3:12-14:
 So, chosen by God for this new life of love, dress in the wardrobe God picked out for you: compassion, kindness, humility, quiet strength, discipline. Be even-tempered, content with second place, quick to forgive an offense. Forgive as quickly and completely as the Master forgave you. And regardless of what else you put on, wear love. It's your basic, all-purpose garment. Never be without it.

Mark encouraged us to swap a piece of clothing with the person next to us by way of acknowledging and practicing what it means to be clothed with these characteristics, hence the reason why my little feet were sliding around in someone else’s shoes.
The thing with General Assembly is that there are certain discussions that keep reoccurring. The sexuality in leadership debate is one of them. The PCANZ have been talking about this for longer than I have been alive, and I suspect the discussion will continue until I too am old and grey.
As I wore Dennis’ shoes I found myself wondering what it would mean for me to stand in the shoes of those on either side of this debate, to consider things from their point of view, to see things from their perspective. I was attending General Assembly as an observer, which meant I didn’t have any speaking or voting rights. Neither did Dennis, he was there as a chaplain. As an observer I had the opportunity to, well, observe. This enabled me to wander about in someone else’s shoes, and to wonder.
I wondered what it was like for those who had been my age when this debate first began to gain traction. I wondered what it was like to be a part of a minority who advocate for change. I wondered what it was like for those who took this personally. I wondered if it was possible not to take this personally. I wondered what it was like to take a strong stand. I wondered if anyone else wondered what it was like for anyone else. I wondered what Jesus was saying.
I wonder if you wonder where I stand. I wonder if you expect me to tell you where I expect you to stand. Instead, I stand here and I wonder…
If we are going to make a stand, may we stand firm in the faith, may we stand in solidarity and not in opposition, and may we remember that Christ stands in our place with his feet in our shoes.

Sunday, 16 September 2012


Judas. He's a bit misunderstood really. He's misunderstood because nobody wants to know him. All I really knew about Judas was that he was a betrayer and a backstabber. So, I avoided forming any connection with this character whatsoever, lest my reputation be tainted by his. To me, Judas wasn't a bad-ass (I could quite happily be friends with a bad-ass), he was just bitchy.

All that's changed now though. My mate Murray helped me see things from Judas' perspective. I felt like we'd been introduced and I had the opportunity to know Judas as a person, not just as that guy who pissed everyone off. The more time I spent with Judas, the more I realised we're not so different from one another after all. We both have a shared brokenness and are susceptible to bitterness, but more importantly, we are both beloved children of God and that's beautiful.

Judas' Kiss - by Murray Shallard

You don't care for me, do you?
Hiding in your meetings, busy with your favourites.
Peter, James & John, they knew how to play you.

You never really liked me did you
I could tell, your eyes would just look right through me.
Wasting your time on woman, tax collectors and sinners
What sort of messiah are you?

I'll make you pay, you'll see. 
I don't need you, I don't care.

Ride your donkey into Jerusalem,
A real man would ride a stallion.
You said you could rebuild the temple in 3 days, yeah right.

You always liked the limelight, didn't you.
You had your big chance with Pilate and you choked,
You didn't even fire a shot.

Why don't you tell some more stories?
Heal someone, or for heavens sake, forgive them
Who does that? What sort of messiah are you?

Why wont you love me.
But you say, "I do.
More than all the stars in the universe I love you."

You tell me I'm good,
But we both know that's a lie. 
On the inside I am crying
But you know that too.

How come it hurts so bad, why am I so angry?
You reach out and I hold you.
On the inside I am bleeding
But you hold me anyway.
What sort of messiah are you?

Monday, 10 September 2012

Chocolate Money and Charity

A slurring old man on Courtenay Place wearing a yellow and black jacket asked me if I had any coins to spare. I lied and told him I didn’t often carry cash with me. It was a half truth; I don’t often carry cash, but I did just make a withdrawal from the ATM up the road and had a wad full of twenty dollar notes in my wallet.
It was the second time that morning that I’d been asked for money. The first time was by a young guy at the Civic Centre wearing a red and black jacket. He gave me the spiel about all the great work Red Cross do with disaster relief and asked me to sign up. I told him I thought Red Cross did do wonderful work but that I couldn’t commit to making regular donations. It was the truth; I couldn’t commit, partly because I was already making regular donations to another charity, but mostly I couldn’t commit because I didn’t want to.
The thing is; I probably could give Red Cross my money. But it would just be money, I wouldn’t be investing anything of myself into the work they do with the disadvantaged.
It’s the same with the old guy; I could have dished out some cash. But what he needs and what I need is not for me to give money, but give myself – I need to invest myself with him. I think that’s what it means to care for the poor. That is much more taxing though, and much more terrifying. It involves stopping and slowing down and spending time with people. It involves wearing someone else’s shoes, and they might feel funny on my feet. It involves taking heed to the advice of To Kill a Mocking Bird’s, Atticus Finch, and climbing into someone else’s skin and walking around a while. It involves more than money. It involves me.
Then I met Ronak for lunch and he gave me two chocolate coins wrapped in gold foil. I liked spending time with him. I’d like to spend more time with him.
I’d like to spend more time with the poor too. I’d like us to eat chocolate, and to listen to each other’s tales, and to take a walk together. I’d like that. I’d like to commit to that. I’d like to invest in that.
I’d like to be generous with myself.
I know someone else who’s like that.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

The Burn

In acknowledgement of the hurt we cause one another I offer this as an opportunity to express our pain and seek healing for our wounded hearts and hands.

He burnt me
And I held my hand over that flame
For far too long
As if spellbound by the sensation,
Oblivious to its destruction. 

He drew me in
With his fiery intrigue.
I became mesmerised
As the flames danced
Round about me.

Before long
I was paralysed.

Now I'm scarred
And not so nimble.
My movements are cautious
And calculated.
My eyes, ever observant
Watching for the slightest flicker
Ready for quicker withdrawl.

So I hide away
Never to be hurt
Or burnt

But you, you are the One
Who is burning but not consumed.
You are ablaze with glory;
Igniting my soul
And setting my heart alight.

Christ be our light
Christ bear our pain
Christ bring us life
Christ be the flame

Wednesday, 8 August 2012

Prayers and Piggy-Back Rides

Caleb Wallis is as exuberant and faithful as only a six year old can be. He has wide eyes and a wild grin, he loves life and he loves God. He is, quite simply, delight-full.

On Sunday afternoon a group of us gathered together to pray, as Adrian poetically puts it;
with our hearts, our mouths, our hands, and our feet
our ears, and our eyes, and our souls complete.
There were different stations set up with different forms of creative prayer and we moved around them in small groups with a couple of adults and a couple of kids each.
Our first stop was ‘Stepping Stone Prayers’. In a circle on the floor were the big blue cushions we borrowed from the kids space. We each stood on a squab and took turns praying aloud. With each ‘amen’ we jumped to the next. In his excitement Caleb rolled his ankle and rolled around on the floor. I gave him the sufficient level of sympathy and bent low as he climbed on my back. We continued praying and jumping and delighting, and Caleb giggled in my ear in agreement.

Our final station involved finding words and forming prayers. Caleb got frustrated because he couldn’t always find the words he wanted to pray. I can identify with that. I had to explain to Caleb that ‘you’re’ is the same as ‘you are’, and that sometimes you have to see the word before you know that it’s the one you want to say. When Caleb got stuck he’d moan and groan. I can identify with that. So I leant across and offered him alternatives. This is his prayer:
You’re the Father
You are Gracious
We are full of blessing
Protect us and everyone on earth
In the eyes of God, give us life
On Sunday Caleb taught me that in prayer there is room for giggling and groaning. I am grateful to God for his goodness.

Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I first met Ashley when we were nine years old. She was new to our school and Ngaire, Jane and I put up our hands to befriend her. Somehow we knew what it meant to include the easily excluded. Maybe it’s something I’d learnt about at church, maybe it’s something our parents had taught us, maybe it’s just instinctive to children who know they are loved.

Ashley had Downs Syndrome and an old, old soul; like she’d accepted life and life had accepted her and they both got on just fine. I was blessed by her friendship. Without even knowing it Ashley taught me compassion and how to delight in daily life – taking time to pick the daisies, that kind of thing. I wish she’d taught me how to be cheeky and sneaky and get away with it. Ash was much more mischievous than me and to my annoyance she’d always get off scot-free, appearing innocent to the authorities.

Ashley died when she was twenty-three and I’d never realised the seriousness of her heart condition. Perhaps that’s a good thing: that I’d never lived in fear of losing her.

I’ve been remembering the friendship I had with Ashley lately. One Sunday evening last month my friend Murray and I headed out to St James Presbyterian in South Dunedin. We’d stopped at the supermarket on the way to get coleslaw, cold ham and ice-cream.
After a few wrong turns and a hurried phone call, a google maps search and some pretty poor navigation on my part, we made it to the old church hall. We’d tried to sneak in the side door undetected but we were late and our efforts at inconspicuousness were thwarted. Everyone turned towards us and we were faced with a roomful of the most beautiful people I have ever set eyes on.
St James holds a weekly evening service – followed by a good feed – for all those in their community who have physical and intellectual difficulties. There were electric wheelchairs and wild cries, sign language and big bright eyes, handshakes and bodies that ache, and words and prayers for Christ’s sake. That night we ate, we talked, we sang, all in the name of Christ, our forerunner and fellow traveller.
The people of St James are children who know they are loved. They know what it means to embrace vulnerability, to include the excluded, to be dependent on God and one another, and to be fed physically and spiritually. They know all this – they live like this – because they know the One who cares for the vulnerable, welcomes the stranger, embraces the outcast and gives food to the hungry.
In this congregation I encountered Christ; I saw his scars and they were beautiful, I heard his voice in words of welcome and embrace, and I felt his presence in the fondness and familiarity I experienced. I first encountered Christ in this way in Ashley, only I’d never realised it ‘til now.

Sunday, 22 July 2012

Not the Same

I am not the same girl I was at twenty-two
When I fell in love with you.

Nor are you the same man that you were
At twenty-four
When we first met.

I remember that September
When we walked and talked and ate together.

I am now twenty-five
And much more alive
Since I've let go of hurt and held on to hope.

You are twenty-nine
And I guess you're fine
Because we haven't spoken since you left.

I remember that day
When you stood in my doorway.
You politely declined a cup of tea

Yet let in as you hugged me.

But this time this really is goodbye.
This time though, there's no need to cry.

Thursday, 21 June 2012

A Lament

I thought I should write something deep and meaningful and hopeful by way of introduction. But I don’t know how.  I can’t couch this with explanation this time around.

On Tuesday my classmates and I watched ‘God On Trial’ – a film about a group of Jewish men in a bare wooden hut in the Auschwitz concentration camp during the Second World War. These men were asking the tough questions of faith; they were asking God and each other why this hellish stuff was happening, and why God wasn’t doing anything about it.

I imagined what I would say if I were there. I imagined that my kids were sick, or stolen, or dead. I imagined that people had cut off my hair along with any connection with the reality I once knew. I imagined that my clothes and my dignity were in tatters and that there was nothing I could do to cover my shame. I imagined that I’d say this:

It’s dark and I can’t see you
It’s so noisy, I can’t hear your gentle, quiet whisper
But sometimes, it’s so quiet, yet all I can hear
                is the voice in my head
                and the voice of my soul
                screaming in agony
It’s cold, and I can’t feel the warmth of your presence
I can’t see you
                or hear you
                or feel you
And I’m scared
Because I’m lost, I don’t know where I am
But worse still, I don’t know where you are
O Lord, do not be far from me
Come quickly to help me
For trouble is near and there is no one to help
Lament – that’s what I would do. I’d wail like a Kuia at a Tangi. I’d curl up on the cold, cold ground and cry out. I’d tear my clothes and cover my body with ashes and dust.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me
Why are you so far from saving me.
So far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out to you by day, but you do not answer,
By night, but I find no rest.

(Psalm 22)

Jesus cried these words too. Jesus knew suffering. Jesus was a Man of Sorrows, a Suffering Servant.
My friend Ed said, “’who needs a God who suffers?’ I do! I need a God who suffers because I am suffering.”

The question of suffering is a big one. And the answer is…that none of us can give an answer – not the most astute theologian, not even Bishop Shallard himself. But we can know this: Christ is with us in our suffering. And we can cry, along with Alistair as he echoes Peter’s words to Christ, “Where else can we go? You alone hold the words of eternal life”, and along with Gary Ma and the people of old, “for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.”
Immanuel, God is with us, we are not alone anymore.

[1] Psalm 22
[2] Psalm 42

Sunday, 27 May 2012

We Were All Children Once

We were children once, we all were
Eyes wide, wild with excitement
Grinning and giggling with infectious delight
Faces bright, alight with adventure
Feet quick for exploration
Open hearts to love, hearts open to be loved
We were all children, we still are

Author and play write J. M. Barrie, created the character Peter Pan; a boy who never grew up, a boy who’s friends were fairies and other lost boys who lived together like brothers, a boy who desperately needed his mother but was too afraid to admit it.

We’re not so defiant as Peter Pan, I don’t think. He didn’t want to grow up. We don’t mind it so much. But what would it mean for us to take a leaf out of Peter Pan’s book (or a feather out of his hat), and not be too quick to relinquish our youth or lose our identity as children – even when our childhood years have long since passed?

 It’s not about being childish, it’s about being childlike.

In Christian circles we have been guilty of saying that our children are to be seen and not heard. I think we got that one wrong. And, at the other end of the spectrum, we have been guilty of saying our children are the church of tomorrow. We have said these things with our words and we have said them with our actions, and I think we’ve got this one wrong too.

Our society at large has been guilty of saying that the elderly are no longer contributing members of society and are in need of being put out to pasture. We haven’t always said it with our words but we said it with our actions and we said it in the things that we haven’t said. Sadly, this has happened in parts of our society, and perhaps even more sadly, this has happened in parts of the Church. I think we’ve got this one wrong as well.

Our generation of children is not the church of tomorrow; they are the church of today. In the same way, our more mature generations are not the church of yesterday; they are the church of today too. Right from our infants to our elderly, and everyone in between, we are all the church of today. The church is the family of God, and we are all children of God – nothing changes that; not age, not ability, not anything.

So, unlike Peter Pan, let us be boys and girls who do grow up, but just like children, let us all enjoy and delight in life – with all its safety and all its surprise. This is the life God has shared with us through his Son by the Spirit. This is the life that grows in us as we grow in Christ. This is the life.

We were all children once. We still are.


Cate Burton
A child of God

Thursday, 10 May 2012


For all those introverts and internal processors out there, who think a million thoughts before they say a single word. I hear ya!

You don't speak
Just to fill the silence.
Words come easy
But don't get wasted.

Often your eyes
Communicate your thoughts
And speech
Is only secondary

As for me
Words get in the way
Or can't be found
Amongst the clutter and dust

Rather than resting
While they emerge
I stumble about
And add to the mess

But with you
I won't worry
'Cos you patiently wait
As I look around

When I catch them
At last
I hold them
Tight in my grasp

But before I let go
And release them aloud
You already knew
What I was trying to say

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

Without You

Four years ago my brother’s friend Kyle died. Kyle was not only Nicks mate, but a member of the family. His death surprised us all, and we continue to miss him.

Kyle was a curious character. He got kicked off the bus, kicked out of class, and caught my folks shelterbelt on fire. He was alive in the truest sense, and trouble followed close behind.

I’ve only written about four songs in my life, one of them was in response to Kyle’s death, and the others that followed; Ron, Ashley, Ana, and Kristen. These are the lyrics:

I heard the news today
News about you
It took my breath away
I wish it wasn't true
I’ve got no words to say
I’m just here without you

But I know
I’ll never let go
Of your memory
I know
I’ll never let go
Of your memory

Life moves to fast
I can’t find the breaks
Please stop. Stand still
Oh, for goodness sake
I don’t want to feel
‘Cos this hurts, this aches

But I know
I’ll never let go
Of your memory
I know
I’ll never let go
Of your memory

Don’t let this time
Be lost on me
I’ll try close my eyes
‘Cos I don’t want to see
But your hurt is gone
Now you’re free

And I know
I’ll never let go
Of your memory
I know
I’ll never let go
Of your memory

I heard the news today
News about you
It took my breath away
I wish it wasn't true
I’ve got no words to say
I’m just here without you
Here without you
Without you

It’s been four years and I’ve still got no words to say, we are just here without him.

But the Word of God, Jesus Christ, says “I am the Resurrection and the Life”. This is what we remember and celebrate at Easter, or rather, this is who we remember and celebrate at Easter – and indeed every day. Christ is risen, hallelujah! And it is the risen Jesus who says, “I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” Jesus is alive, and our lives are found in him, now and always – nothing changes that, not even death changes that.

So, Kyle is not here with us. But Christ is. And Kyle is with Christ too. This is no lame compromise, this life in the truest, most beautiful sense.

I will continue to miss Kyle – we all will – but we hold on to the hope of eternal life in Christ.

Maranatha, come Lord Jesus.

See you soon, brother.