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Arguments and positions

Earlier this week I tried out the new bus routes in Christchurch by walking between them across the port hills. It wasn’t the nicest day. At one stage it rained, or at least it was something between rain and drizzle. As Lyttelton came into view I saw a ship berthed at one of the wharves. I saw immediately that it was bulkie—a ship carrying bulk cargo, rather than containers, liquids or any other specialised cargo. The hatch covers of the ship were partly closed, as if to protect the cargo from the rain. As I came closer, I realised that logs were loaded onto the ship, but the first impression nevertheless brought back memories of the many hours I had spent on ships arguing whether it was raining or not.

In times past I was a port agent, including for fertiliser ships. During rain the discharge of fertiliser is normally stopped and the hatch covers closed, because getting the fertiliser wet is not good for the product. But whether it was raining or drizzling that was always a heated argument. Everyone had a different opinion and that opinion was influenced by everybody’s interests. The crew representing the shipowner had to deliver the cargo in the best condition and therefore were keen to close the hatches at any hint of rain. Normally, they were in no hurry to leave the port, because they were paid by the charterer. The stevedores (those unloading the ship) were normally keen to keep working no matter what, especially the supervisors. The stevedoring company was paid by the tonnes discharged and had to pay their employees an hourly rate. The workers themselves had different motivations. If they wanted to get home, they were keen to finish the job as quickly as possible. But if they needed the money, they might be keen to have their shift extended. The truckies also sometimes weighed in: they normally wanted to get the job done quickly. I represented the charterer and therefore balanced various considerations: I needed to ensure that the cargo arrived in reasonable condition, but I also needed to keep the costs down. It got even more complicated if the ship’s next port was Bluff. In that case I needed to ensure that the ship left the port by a certain time, so that it could arrive in Bluff to enter the port with the tide.

The question whether it rained or not got very complicated, because all of us had competing interests and different positions. Add to that a lack of sleep when the weather turned at 3am at night and the different national characters of the men involved and the fraying of tempers was only understandable.

I wonder whether something similar is also the case with the arguments we have in society or in church. We all have different positions, interests and fears. It is understandable that we argue about certain matters that may not appear to be of big consequence, but in fact represent a clash of world views. Maybe if we understand the motivations of the people arguing, we ourselves can address the issues more sensitively—at least sometimes.

At the time of writing I was also preparing for Synod, where there’s always a clash of views. After all, whether someone comes from a big or small parish changes their perspective on things, for example. Just one more thing: I still reckon it wasn’t really raining that day in Lyttelton—that’s my professional opinion.