Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The right side of history....

Two posts in one day? Something just caught my eye. I am a very busy retiree, with a voluntary chaplaincy, two small paid chaplaincies, being chairman of the local Night Shelter Trust and doing lots for the local Presbyterian Church. I sometimes think I am too busy for my own good. There seem to be lots of people willing to give me advice telling me to "stop", "take time for yourself" "you only live once" "take care of yourself" "come play bowls."  etc. etc.  I think about this carefully. What could I do? Go tramping? Join a club of some sort? Take up a hobby? Go on old peoples' bus trips? Do some art? Have a fancy and tidy garden? Every time I ponder it seriously I find myself saying, "No! That's not for me." Ultimately deep down, I am sure I'd be unhappy. Just to imagine spending my time finding things to entertain me, seems even repulsive. I will try to fit some of those in, but I could not make them a high priority in my life. There is still a need for service on the Night Shelter Trust. When I think the Trust is really firmly established as a group, I'll take a backward step, but just now there's a need I can fill. There's a need for caring ministry and guidance at the local Church. I know I am bringing encouragement to people there and changing perspectives. If I buried myself in other past times I would feel like I was not pulling my weight, not answering some deep inner call. 
Tonight I saw the photo below and the caption and it rang bells somehow, though I would not rate myself with such an icon as John Lewis. 
John Lewis's arrest picture, Jackson, Mississippi, 1961. "Even though I was arrested, I smiled because I was on the right side of history."
I am busy, probably too busy for my own good at times, and sometimes it is annoying and sometimes I want to yell, "But I am retired!" But deep down, I know I am still making a difference for good in my community.   While I still can, it feels like the right thing to do.  If I knew I was to die tomorrow, I'll know I did my best, in my small way, to leave a better community and world. If I spent my time just entertaining myself through retirement, I'd feel like I was not really living a fulfilling life and just waiting to die. I feel like I am "on the right side of history" no matter what others say.


We are not having the greatest of summers. Windy and cloudy days seem to be frequent. But I still love Dunedin, New Zealand. Here is a link to a video from "Young Adventurers" which gives a little glimpse of my home town. Also I have some photos to share of life for me since Christmas.

An old garden shed I built from demolition wood nearly 30 years ago needed a new window. I constructed a frame to suit a pane of glass I had sitting around, all from old wood from pallets I picked up.

Pania, our foster daughter with severe handicaps turned 38 two days after Christmas. She suffers from Retts Syndrome. She is in care and visits home regularly. I bumped into her and her carer in town today. She was so delighted to see me. She is really a delight, though she cannot say a thing, nor do much for herself. She smiles, and thats enough.
I lined the garden shed with free wood from under a "Free Firewood" sign at a hardware store.
The tidy up was a Christmas gift to my wife.
An early Sunday morning walk in our neighbourhood. A very still morning on Otago Harbour.
My 30 year old sawhorse collapsed when I put a heavy log on it.
One end survived, so I rebuilt it, again with free wood and painted it this time.
It will not have to last me another 30 years. :-) 
We bought fish & chips and sat by the local boat club to eat them.
I am currently chopping down trees on our land and collecting firewood. It will be good and dry for next year.
I have lots more to harvest. 
Whenever I see this I am reminded to hope and persevere.
I chopped this tree down several months ago, but it refuses to die. A great reminder.
We made a big purchase for us - a shredder for the small branches and vegetation from my harvested trees.
We do save a lot for kindling wood. It has already done a lot of work.

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

A friend's facebook comment..

I have a fellow Workplace support chaplain, Steve O'Conner, who is a bit of a rebel Baptist minister. He wrote the following on his facebook page. I like every thing he says, but I think I would be even more radical. I did pass an extensive comment, which I will include below.
2017 marks 500 year since Martin Luther published his 95 Theses and kicked off the “Protest-ant Reformation” The theses were written as an invitation to his peers to a public debate around some very important theological and social issues of his day. At the heart of his protest was the practice of ‘indulgences’ a fundraising scheme of the Roman church whereby people paid money to have their sins forgiven or to have their dead relatives released from purgatory. 
In this case theology, politics and justice were all intertwined. The church leadership was wilfully abusing its power to feather its own nest. The church hierarchy, which was in bed with the political leadership of Europe, was amassing great wealth, building huge cathedrals, living in lavish episcopal palaces at the expense of the poor. By abusing their power, creating a climate of fear (If you don’t pay an indulgence you’re sins will not be forgiven – you will go to hell or you will be responsible for your family’s eternal torment etc.) the church exacerbated the divide between the rich and the poor, contributed to the ignorance of the masses and supported massively corrupt princes. (Sounds all too familiar)
My hope is that in 2017 some brave church leaders might take up the debate again. The church needs more than a reformation it needs a complete transformation. I don’t have 95 theses to compare to Martin Luther’s but I do have deep concerns about the church and its interactions with society. I wish to ‘protest’ the extraordinary gap between the life and teaching of Jesus and the contemporary practices of the church. The issues of fundraising (think: tithing) of exclusivism (think: ‘our way is the only way to get to heaven’) are up near the top of the list. But also the more general abuse of wealth and power, the treatment of minorities, the disregard of the environment, discrimination against women and the LGBTQ community. The church’s desperate attempt to hold onto power by perpetuating myths of flat earth proportions and denying scientific advance and even the very good work of biblical scholars, by imposing a censorship against difference and a closed minded approach to truth is truly damaging not only to the church, but to human society and to the very planet we live on.
So my invitation to all of you who have managed to read this far is to join this very important discussion. Let’s start a transformation not just of the church but of the society we live in. What theses would you like to add for discussion? Here’s a few to get you thinking pleas add your own or contribute to the discussion in any way by sharing this post and adding your own comments.
1. Jesus invitation to ‘repent’ was an invitation to continuous incremental change, to grow to become more fully alive, more fully human, to become an agent of transforming love – that is to become like Jesus.
2. The church is to be a community of change imbibing, proclaiming and facilitating the life and teaching of Jesus for the benefit of all.
3. Justice, mercy and humility are paramount virtues in the quest to be such transforming agents
4. No institution or religion, or philosophy or scientific endeavour has a monopoly on the truth, we need to work together in a spirit of respectful dialogue to transform our religious, social and political structure so there might truly be ‘good news to the poor’.
5. “Salvation” (healing) is a much bigger idea than getting into heaven when you die, but involves health for the whole person, body mind and spirit, health for society and health for the planet.
6. Exclusivism, especially that which seeks to control people by decreeing who is ‘saved’ and who is not is an intolerable evil and completely contrary to the life and teaching of Jesus.
7. The bible is a collection of ancient documents that must be interpreted as such. It is not a science book. It is nonsense to say that it is infallible. Using the bible as a proof text to maintain power and control is an intolerable evil.
8. The ‘proof’ of good religion is the fruit that is produces, in terms of improvements to people’s individual wellbeing, community wellbeing and environmental well-being.
There’s my top-of-the-head list please add your own comments and share.


My Comments....

Hi Steve, "Amen" to all your statements above. I like your 8 statements and have copied them to keep. I have long thought that a reformation more profound than Martin Luther's is long overdue. I think people who have tried have given up and left the institution... very few of the people I went through College with during my four years of theological training in Aussie are still in ministry! Some good thinkers and ministers have given up. Others have not had the courage to follow their inner thinking, retreating to an insipid orthodoxy. I have tried to change mind sets, but made very little progress, people preferring the safety of the traditional. Even when they agree with statements, in practice they tend to revert to old outlooks. My "love/Hate" relationship with the Church continues and I prefer to call myself a follower of Jesus rather than "Christian" . From the perspective of following the way of Jesus... (1) I believe the Church is too "bums on seats, worship focused." The Church is not meant to be an end in itself. But we often make it such. Because of this we ask the wrong questions; Instead of "What does it mean to express the way of Jesus now?" we ask, "How do we get people in?" We may be successful at that, but its the wrong question. A friend of mine says that mostly the Church is "Spiritually masturbating". If worship was meant to be the main focus of the followers of Jesus, why does he virtually never mention it? Yet we spend thousands of dollars on worship centres, worship leaders etc... (2) I read progressive writers, Borg, Spong, Crossan, Meyers etc. etc. There is a lot of words and good thinking.... BUT in my experience words do not communicate the guts of Jesus. His invitation is to "Follow me". and it is in the following that the "Salvation" (wholeness) "Eternal Life" (A quality of life not length) "the Kingdom of God" become real. We can change the theology, the words, the concepts, but like so many reformations in the past, it will only solidify into a new set of "isms". In the DOING, the unity with the sacred, the unity with humanity, the sense of unity and awe in creation, and even worship becomes real. Instead of being a "Worship Club" that sometimes serves, the Church should be in the world primarily as servants, a serving group, facilitating wholeness, which sustains its being by also worshipping. In much progressive writing, good though it is, I feel that action/servant focus is missing I have seen progressive groups who get together to discuss what they do not now believe, and what is wrong with the church, and how they have risen higher and moved on, but who never get past that sort of navel gazing into actually serving.. They too are "spiritually masturbating" like the people they are critical of. John has Jesus say something like, "If you obey me my Father and I will come and dwell with you." In the obedience, the sacred, reality is found, not in words. Sorry for burbling ... just some thoughts.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Christmas Eve reflections.

A sad Thursday.
Last Thursday I had a reasonably busy day lined up, planning to go into town to do chaplaincy at about 11 a.m.  I rose had my breakfast and was beginning to carry on my work toward Sunday's service when the phone rang. It was still relatively early in the morning so I was expecting it to be the Night Shelter. It wasn't. This woman's voice said, "Hello Dave I am "X" I am "Z Y's" wife. He wants to see you." "Z Y" was a retired fire fighter who has been retired nearly five years. Ten months ago I had heard he had been diagnosed with cancer, and in April, just before we headed away to visit Edinburgh, I had heard that it was terminal and they did not expect him to last more than two weeks. "Z" is a nice guy and I had enjoyed talking with him as his chaplain. He had always made it very plain he was an atheist and didn't believe, or tolerate that religious "shit". But I liked him. He is a very skilled man and appreciated some of the things about life that I appreciate. But because he was an atheist and because he had expressed a wish that he did not want hordes of visitors, I did not go up to see him. I thought he may interpret any visit as me wanting to "save" him before he died. Before we went to Edinburgh I wrote a card expressing my admiration and appreciation of him as a person and wishing him all the best for whatever time he had left. He has lived all this time and a fellow fire fighter had been keeping me up on how he was doing. But now he was asking for me, so I made a time that afternoon to visit him. But more was to follow that morning.
Yet another funeral!
I set about doing work and the phone rang again. It was Jack. Jack had been a good friend of my Dad's. He and his wife, Florence had been like a younger Aunt and Uncle to us as children when we were growing up. They were part of my last congregation and I had been visiting them from time to time since my retirement. Both were in their nineties. "David" Jack said, "I need to let you know, its Florence, she has died this morning." He told me the details, how it happened and how he was feeling. She had been becoming more frail. They live in the same area of town that my retired "ZY" lived and I had thought that I could call on them after my visit to him. But now Florence, a lovely loving woman, was dead. "She would want you to take the funeral." he said. He had to hang up because a daughter was arriving, but I made plans to see him after I had visited my retired firefighter. I was choking up as I talked with him on the phone.
It was some afternoon. My terminally ill retired fire fighter was struggling to accept the inevitable. We talked and he asked me to lead his service when the inevitable happened. I promised to keep in touch. I visited Jack, and his two daughters and a grandson was present. We had a nice time of memories and reflection until the funeral director came. We made necessary plans and I stood with Jack as the funeral attendants prepared and carried Florence on her last trip down her garden path. As I held the door for them to load her into their wagon, I said, "Take care of her, she is a special lady to me." I know the funeral Director well. So on Wednesday this week once again I was up front leading a funeral ceremony. There was a big number of people there, and among them most of my old congregation. I felt a bit awkward because professionally the current minister should have been leading the service. But I have known this couple virtually all my life, I had led the weddings of their two daughters and knew them well. He accepted the situation when Jack mentioned it to him. 
I was told by many, many people, including the family, that I did an excellent job. I was relieved and again wondering how come I succeeded? 
Questionable Carols
Tonight in an hour or so there is to be a Christmas Eve service in the local Church. I am not leading it, the "Interim Moderator" is doing the honours, but he wanted the Carols, all eleven of them, on power point on the TV screen. So yesterday I found myself typing up Christmas Carols. I do not believe in the Virgin Birth as an historical event. I do not think that the "real" Jesus would like the theological adulation of him that goes on in Carols. I hate the sentimental hog wash linked to Christmas. So I spent time yesterday typing up these carols. "Lo he abhors not the virgins womb." What on earth is that? He better not! "But his mother only, in her maiden bliss, worshipped the beloved, with a kiss." "Maiden Bliss"? Is a normal woman who is sexually active somehow dirtied? The implications of the doctrine stink! So I will display the words like a good little helper, but some verses I will definitely not sing.
Happy Christmas everyone. Have a great day.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Oh dear, how embarrassing! I'm a "Local Hero."

Kiwibank runs a "New Zealander of the year" award thingy and the public are invited to nominate people. Well some people nominated me for my work leading the local Night Shelter Trust. From these nominations local hero's are selected, then next year the New Zealander of the Year is selected. I am most unlikely to be anywhere near that award, particularly since only my Night Shelter stuff is mentioned in the nomination. But I was selected as one of many to receive a Local Hero Award for the local region.  So we went to the Award ceremony last night. Here are some photos.
It is nice to be recognised, I guess, but a bit embarrassing. There are lots of people supporting me, for example my chief supporter and accomplice is my wife. Nothing is achieved on your own, we are all part of groups of people assisting each other on the journey. We went to the ceremony, where there were drinks and nibbles. Afterward we bought fish and chips for tea which we ate in our kitchen while watching TV. That is not a very fancy way to celebrate, perhaps we are getting cynical in our old age.
The inscription reads "New Zealander of the Year" and "Local Hero" award. On the back is my name.
The box is as flash as the medal!
The recipients... Sze-En Watts (third from right in the second row) received one on behalf of the Uni-Crew who organised the sleep out.  
The Uni-crew (student volunteer team) who organised the sleepout.

Friday, December 9, 2016

A letter to the editor - about Jesus.

The other day I got to stewing about things while I was reading the local paper.  That night and the next morning, a "Letter to the Editor" rose from somewhere in me. So I wrote it and sent it off. "They will not print that!" I said to myself. Days went by and it was not printed. This morning it was in the paper for all to see. I reprint it here...

Dear Sir,

Breakfast at our house includes reading the Otago Daily Times. On Monday I was reading the World Focus magazine, while my wife was reading the rest of the paper. “Castro” she blurted out, “did not want anything named after him. According to him, such individualism is wrong.” I looked up and commented, “That’s sounds very Jesus-ish.” - I doubt however, that Jesus would agree with Castro’s methods. At that point I was looking at the back page photos and saw the photo of the massive Sagrada Familia cathedral in Barcelona.  My wife interrupted again and said something about “poverty in Zimbabwe.”
Like a cow chewing its cud, my mind chewed on these statements, the photo and Christmas. I got to thinking, would the real Jesus applaud the building of that cathedral in his name? Would the “real” Jesus like the endless adulation and unearthly glorification of himself in Church worship, in Christmas Carols and in the way we celebrate “Christ”mas? Would he be in tune with the “religious and worship focus” of the Churches?
I study the gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. I avidly read recent scholars and thinkers to seek to improve my understanding of Jesus of Nazareth then and now.  As I read of Jesus he seems to say, “People of the world seek power, money and adulation, but followers of my way will be different, you will be servants in the world.” I suspect a cup of water, a serving towel and a caring touch are expressions of Jesus’ way, not towering Church buildings, endless adulation, creeds and worship without loving action. I find myself disturbed by priorities in our churches and by the way we celebrate Christmas. Maybe Jesus would sing with Malanie, “Look what they done to my song ma… it was the only thing I could do half right and its turning out all wrong, ma!” These days I prefer to call myself a “follower of Jesus” rather than “Christian”, which seems to me to carry too much distortion and unhelpful baggage.

Dave Brown

I got a text from two fire fighters this morning thanking me for the "thought provoking letter" and one pointed out that I had won the paper's "Letter of the Week" prize! I had not noticed that. ... That is a surprise in this secular country and age. I came across a quote from the Dalai Lama. "If you want to make others happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion." Pretty much sums up the message of Jesus for me. 

Thursday, December 8, 2016

Something has to be done!

Funeral outburst
I led this funeral yesterday. It was very stressful. It was for the 19 year old girl, a mother of a 3 year old, who overdosed on alcohol and morphine based painkillers. She spent the night with her boyfriend and they were drinking whiskey and she had pinched some painkiller pills from her dad's bathroom cabinet. She died over night, so yesterday I found myself standing in front of more than 300 people leading her funeral. Many of the people were young people. 

I was disappointed because the dad had said he wanted to speak on behalf of the family, but on the day he had changed his mind. I had prepared a short history of her life with some stories that depicted her personality, but I was leaving her dad to do the main job, as he said he would. I had offered to read family contributions and a couple were given to me before the service. I wished he had at least written one. I was introduced to an ex-teacher of the young woman, who wanted to speak. He spoke well, but was very emotional.  During the service I was handed about three sheets of paper from people with poems or messages on them, one I could not read the writing and I struggled to get through it! There were some of her friends who spoke. During the service too the family asked if another young man could speak, so for much of the ceremony I felt like I was winging it and a bit out of control.  It was the nature of this family and I half expected it might happen that way. I listened to the teenager friends speak proclaiming undying love and how they were there for each other in life, etc, crying their way through their presentations. I read the messages handed to me as best I could, but I began to feel uneasy. 
Now I could be wrong in my estimation, but it seemed to me that many of them were part of a partying/experimental/risky living, superficial culture that had ultimately killed this girl! It was in my notes to give some brief advice to bring some meaning to this event, but because of the way the service had gone the nature of my comments ended up being very blunt and to the point. By that time I was feeling a bit raw! The death seemed pointless and needless and was the result of a stupid decision and mind set, yet they were talking as if she was Mother Teresa herself! 
I left my notes and ad-libbed and the words I used went something like this; "I am an old man and because of the things I have been involved in and am still doing, I have encountered a lot of sadness in my life. This death has had its impact on me. It seems meaningless and needless. ... But we can give it meaning if in memory of (the person) we committed ourselves to two truths. First, you, each one of you is unique and precious, love yourselves! Look after your self. For God's sake look after yourself! (said fairly forcefully) Secondly the person next to you, here and wherever you are is a unique and important person. Love them. Look after them! Look out for them. For God's sake look after your mates! Lets in memory of xxxxx, commit to look after ourselves and look after our mates! Love yourself and love your neighbour are the guts of life!" 
I was angry that this young woman, who obviously had spirit, skills and a "presence" about her, had been killed by dubious values and practices which are part of our youth culture. In my time I have seen too many lives stuffed up by such an atmosphere or way of thinking.
The golden rule - why not teach it?
New Zealand is a very secular country. There is now almost an aversion to religion in Government departments (except Maori spirituality) and in the education system. The separation of Church and state is a basic principle and a way of life here. But I think with the lessening of the impact of Christendom (and I do not think that is all bad) we live in times when as a society we have no anchor, no clear base for morality. Greed, selfishness or just self survival takes over and truth, honesty, compassion tend to go out the window. I was talking to a man at the brewery where I am a chaplain and he was telling me about one of his kid's twenty first birthday party. He told about the consumption of booze that went on. Then he said, "It is different than in our day. We used to drink, and drink heavily, but we always looked after our mates. I discovered on the night of the twenty first, the kids today don't! If someone is comatose, they just leave them behind! We never did that even when we were pissed!" It rang bells because I have heard emergency workers saying similar things. Politicians lie and do not seem to be embarrassed about it. People take things (stealing) if they can get away with it, then boast about it! In our market place people cheat and lie blatantly. I had a man ring asking if I could help with a survey. I put him off because I was busy, but he insisted that he ring after work. He did so, the first few questions were survey type questions, then he began trying to sell me insurance. I told him, "You lied! This is no survey. It is false pretenses." He began to tell me again about this insurance deal, but I just said "No - you lied - goodbye!" It was blatant lies with no sense of guilt or remorse! We have lost our moral compass. But.... do not teach religion! Do not get to deep values! That is in personal opinion territory and dangerous, offensive even! Such depth is seen as offensive in our secular society. You work that out by yourself somehow!  
But... I got to thinking, the Golden Rule... "Do unto others as you would have them do to you." or variations of the same theme is a basic principle in 26 of the major religions and is expressed in the secular moral philosophy of many writers. It is such a basic principle accepted by such a wide range of thinkers, that surely in our education systems it should not be offensive to teach and explore that! Surely we can instill such an acceptable principle in our young people's minds and get them exploring its implications. It is not converting them to any particular religion, but just exploring a principle which has evolved in a variety of civilisations. The Charter for Compassion is a grand statement along this line which deserves attention, but even just the golden rule itself explored more often could become an anchor for our morality. Just thinking... as you do when you are confronted with the senseless death of a young person!