Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two Photos...

Sad losses
This picture is gut wrenching. All these lives from the Otago, NZ area were lost on the Somme in WWI. Each cross represents a young man whose life was cut short. Such a line up of crosses makes you realise the terrible impact, and we should remember. I got to thinking - though perhaps not remember in the same way - but I would love to line up a similar display to see the terrible number of lives washed down the sewer by our economic systems, the greed of the richest, the failing mental health systems and our often upside down values. I used to look at the twisted lives of our drop in centre people and weep inside. I met one old bloke I've known for 30 yrs the other day. Now well into his 70's he was shuffling down the road with his walker, nearly blind from cataracts, dribbling, making his way back to his rented, powerless house.. Very sad. Some how "NZ" has failed him.
Crosses in the Queens Gardens, Dunedin, NZ
Fantastic Quiz Night
Congratulations to the Dunedin firefighters and the team there who ran a great quiz night last night with proceeds going to the shelter. A good successful night, REALLY appreciated. Helping to mark the answer sheets for 26 teams kept us busy though! I know the provisional amount raised, though yet to be announced. It looks like it could get to $5000! But the support offered, the feeling during the night and the persistence of the firefighters to make this happen was amazing. I was blown away by their companionship in my journey.
A Quiz night at Dunedin Central firestation to raise funds for the Night Shelter.
Update: Through the quiz night Dunedin Fire Fighters raised $5000 for the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. So cool.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Life in the fast lane...

Funerals continue..
I have now led seven funerals since we came back from Scotland at the beginning of July. I have also attended two others as doorman/sound system operator/bell ringer at the local Church. Maybe it is proof that I am getting old? The last one I led was different. We went through to Christchurch to catch up on my son and his family there one weekend. On the Saturday I had a call from a paramedic from St John Ambulance, (where I am voluntary chaplain) to say that the mother of an ex-worker there was dying, and the ex-worker was asking about possible funeral plans. At 7 a.m. (sleep in time when you are on holiday) on the Sunday morning I had a text to say that the mother had died. On the way back to Dunedin the next day, I had a phone call from the ex-worker to ask if I would lead a ceremony. The mum had moved to New Zealand from the UK a year or so ago, to be with her daughter, so knew few people here. They lived on a little farm property a few kilometres north of Dunedin. Between us we designed a funeral that suited the family. Mum was cremated and on the next Saturday evening at sunset, on the lawn of this little farm overlooking a misty valley, about  eight people gathered for a ceremony. The mum had been born in Glasgow so two pipers, friends from St John, began the ceremony. I was in effect master of ceremony, so introduced things, had a reading, then two members of the family spoke. I spoke some more, reflecting on the mother's life, then shared some words of committal. The pipers cranked up again and when they ceased we all had a nip of whiskey to honour life and the mum. Then, with it being dark by this time, fireworks marked the end of the ceremony and the setting free of mum's being. Again bagpipes finished proceedings. It was in fact very moving and appropriate for this family. 
I have agreed to lead services at the little local Presbyterian Church two Sundays in four. I had felt strongly that there was a need for consistency, pastoral care and a drawing together of the Church community. It is early days, but I feel that there has been an increase in attendance (at least when I am leading) and a more positive, "together" spirit about the place. I am enjoying the experience and feeling more and more relaxed in the role. Today's service was one where I involved a few people from the congregation doing various parts. A family shared their musical meal time grace with us, and we participated. The father of the family led a couple of songs with his guitar. Our parish session clerk lead a prayer, and a young teacher led our prayer for others. Each one played their part very well. Our Parish session clerk is a vital woman in her eighties. I had asked her to lead in a prayer of thanks for the life of a member who had died, and whose funeral we shared on Friday. His widow and daughters were in the congregation. Her prayer was something very special. It was born of love for the family, reflected the wisdom that came from her own experience of losing her husband a few years ago, and was extremely well worded with a beautiful economy of words. She did better than I could have done. When I announced that we would finish by saying "the Grace" together and "if you like you can join hands" there was a spontaneous move as the whole congregation joined hands with each other. I think we can do something with this little group of mostly elderly, but essentially loving people.
We own three 1990's vehicles. We have a little Toyota Starlet which is my wife's runabout, a red Nissan Bluebird which is a great car for trips and my Nissan Diesel long wheelbase van. We have a system in NZ where the vehicles have to go through a Warrant of Fitness check every six months. This is a nerve wracking process when you have old vehicles. The little Starlet has no problems. The van generally passes relatively easily, but often requires work between Warrants. The red car almost got through, but failed on an important difficult-to-fix problem. I have started repairs on that. The van lately has been causing me grief. I replaced the radiator. The windscreen wipers broke, so I repaired these, having to dismantle nearly everything under the dashboard to do so. One of the hoses to the transmission sprung a leak, causing the whole side of the motor and under carriage to be covered in oil, and of course, no drive. I fixed the hose, but could not find out how much transmission fluid to put in the gear box. I was advised by the man in the parts shop as he looked at his computer, but advised incorrectly. I put a way too much in, and upon driving it, it squirted out of the dip stick holder. This led to fusing of the glow plug system. I fixed all that, then discovered it was overdue for a Warrant of Fitness. The mechanic checked it and passed almost all of it. Except he said, "There is too much shit about, I can't see to check the fuel system."  I brought it home, got some degreaser, and lying under the van and in the motor compartment, took the dirt off the vehicle, transferring most of it, I'm sure, to me! I took it in to be rechecked and the mechanic passed it. I must say it seems to be driving better than it has since I purchased it. People say that I should dump all my old cars and purchase one newer model. I am unconvinced. A man I know purchased a newer vehicle more than twice the price of all my cars put together. (Total purchase of my two old cars and van comes to $3,800) In the last year he has spent $4000 on mechanical repairs. All my vehicles have paid for themselves several times over. I have a versatile variety of vehicles, one which can transport big stuff, (firewood, furniture, tools, ladders etc, and we can camp in it) another for comfortable sedate trips, and an economical runabout. It is a satisfying feeling when you repair them, but just sometimes they can test my patience, and I envy those with flash new vehicles. 

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Day's Demand.

I was searching through a big book of poems I have, looking for something for the funeral I was preparing. This one was unrelated but struck me as so relevant to the age we live in. For me, not just in NZ but in other places too, it feels like..... "Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps." Change the "men" to "people" though....

The Day's Demand

GOD, give us men!
A time like this demands
Strong minds, great hearts, true faith and ready hands;
Men whom the lust of office does not kill;
Men whom the spoils of office can not buy;
Men who possess opinions and a will;
Men who have honor; men who will not lie;
Men who can stand before a demagogue
And damn his treacherous flatteries without winking!
Tall men, sun-crowned, who live above the fog
In public duty, and in private thinking;
For while the rabble, with their thumb-worn creeds,
Their large professions and their little deeds,
Mingle in selfish strife, lo! Freedom weeps,
Wrong rules the land and waiting Justice sleeps.

Josiah Gilbert Holland, 1819-1881

May there indeed be such people willing to step up.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sound off.. Good and bad.

Four funerals - two Church services and two chaplains conferences. - Phew!
I have conducted three funerals in the last three weeks, and yesterday I was doorman/sound system operator at a fourth.  Two of the funerals were for men I would count as friends. The fourth was for an elderly lady in the local Church whose health has been going downhill for quite some time.  They have a bit of a tradition here of ringing the bell of the Church at the end of the funeral. They ring out one chime for every year of the person's life. My friend Robert used to be the bell ringer on such occasions. At his funeral one of the local cafe owner's came and offered to ring the bell 73 times. Yesterday after this lady's funeral I rang the bell 83 chimes.   It has been an interesting journey.  I am still saying "bugger" about my local friend (Robert) who was found dead. I miss his presence at Church and in the local community. I looked forward to our conversations and life seems more empty without him around. 
I have led worship at the local Church the last two Sundays.  Though they were not my best, I enjoyed introducing dialogue, doing some pastoral care toward a grieving congregation and feeling like I was sharing something important.  I enjoyed too the creative process of exegesis of the readings and working out how best to communicate the message of them. It is an art and I enjoy being the artist. 

A gift of grace...
The day after my last funeral, a retired firefighter phoned me asking if he could come and see me. "I need to see ya!" he said over the phone, "Are you gonna be home this afternoon?" So we tidied the lounge, got afternoon tea ready and waited for his arrival, wondering what he had to see me about. He arrived in his farm ute, with a crate on the back, filled with macrocapa firewood all chopped and split. Macrocapa is one of the best and most expensive woods for fire wood. He poked his head out of the cab window and in a gruff tone yelled, "Well, where d'ya want it?" We unloaded this surprise gift and went in for a cup of tea and a friendly catchup chat. How cool is that. As I left I looked at the pile and said, "Thank you so much! You are so great!"  "Look in the mirror and say that to yourself! See ya!" he retorted and away he went. My mind went back nearly twenty three years ago when I first met him. All I said was, "Hi I'm Dave Brown, I'm the new chaplain." and he told me "take your f***ing Christianity to Wellington and shove it up the bums of those F***ing bastards up there. Don't bloody Bible bash us!" We now enjoy each other's company. As I stacked the wood a couple of days later I realised the tremendous amount of work he had done in cutting it and splitting it. It is such a warm expression of friendship.
Women.... learn some manners!
It may be because I have been busy and tired, but lately I have decided mature women need a lesson in good manners. I do a lot of extra voluntary stuff. I'll fix a tap, or do some little handy man job for somebody, or do maintenance around the Night Shelter or Church.  In the last few weeks I have had what only can be called "demands" made by women. "I need a key." "The toilet is leaking" "I need paint, what about that paint you've got?"  I have noticed how rudely a succession of women have asked for favours. If it had been men they would have said, "Hi Dave, I know you're busy, but I need a key. Would it be possible for you to get one for me please? If that is OK? Are you sure its OK? How can I pick it up?" But not this woman, just an email, "Hey Dave I need a key!" It is as if you are one of their employees and they are the boss. Its a demand, with no "please" and "thank you". In musing on this I decided that its the way they talked to their children, and they carry it over to mugs like me. I have expressed frustration a couple of times and that has brought about a lessening of their demand. "Oh I know you're busy, just when you can." 
Is a funeral the time for a sermon?
I sat through the last funeral as the sound system controller, doorman, janitor. There were folk I knew from St John there and I knew that most people there were not Church goers. Many were people from the local community I see in the supermarket and garage. I like the guy who was leading it, he is a loving man, but it was a "religious" funeral with Christian dogma, jargon and cliches. Under the heading "Words of Comfort" in the order of service he gave a little sermon. In essence he said, "The Bible says death is the 'enemy'.(the metaphysical pro's and cons of this considered) We can defeat death by believing in Jesus Christ. Our deceased 'sister' did. So I commend to you her faith - if you believe then you too will defeat death and have something to look forward to at the time of your death."  I was embarrassed. Here in the church I attend, representing the congregation I fellowship with, this guy was hitting people with this 1950's dogma! Reading the body language, most of the congregation had switched off anyway. I am not a follower of Jesus to get to heaven when I die! If heaven is a reality (and I think some kind of ongoing dimension is.) I cannot believe in a God who would ban people from heaven on the basis of believing the right dogma? I felt sick and did not want to be identified with this congregation. In spite of his desire to commend Jesus to people, I suspect he would have had the opposite impact. At least he did on me. I felt repulsed by this sort of Christianity, though I actually like that particular minister as a man. 

Sunday, August 21, 2016

I nearly cried.

In my last post I told how Robert, a local friend of mine had been found dead.  I had once met one of his brothers who lives in another city, but did not really know his family. I heard that this brother was on his way to Dunedin.  I felt that when his brother arrived to deal with funeral arrangements, he may not know where to begin to contact the local Church. I drove past the house several times to see if he had arrived.  Finally on Tuesday morning as I left to go into town to meetings and chaplaincy work, I dropped a sheet of paper with the interim moderator's and the session clerk's phone numbers on it into the letterbox. I also had my name and number and the offer to help in any way. I expected that the interim moderator would take the funeral. Later that day my wife called at the house and met his brother. She and he rang me, and he asked if I would lead my friend's funeral. I agreed, though I knew that it would be emotionally tough. The brother came for dinner that night and we chatted about it, his memories and made necessary arrangements. I attended a St John Chaplains' conference in Wellington City for two days, and caught up with the larger family on Friday. The old Iona Church is part way through a restoration project and is seldom used. As we cleaned and prepared the church for the service and did the set up, we realised that my dead friend was the one who usually did a lot of these jobs on such an occasion.  On Saturday, in the historic Iona Church in Port Chalmers, I led his funeral. There was quite a crowd there, including at least six senior Presbyterian ministers. I was aware that my ceremony would be different than theirs, but I thought I had to be true to my approach. As I came to the end of my eulogy I found my voice cracking with emotion and was glad to hand over to family members to share their tributes. After a couple of other speakers, I safely negotiated the remainder of the service. Robert had promised to play "Finlandia" in Church for me when I next led a service, and the brother had chosen that tune for the organist to play as we led the casket out of the Church. As I walked ahead of the coffin down the Church isle listening to this tune that he and I enjoyed, I found my lip quivering with emotion and the beginnings of a sob happen. I bit my lip and carried on. As they loaded the coffin into the hearse I wanted to yell, "Bugger!"  
Today I led Sunday worship deeply aware that Robert was missing. He always appreciated what I offered. But I did feel that once again I was minister to a Church family who needed encouragement and love. 

While I was in Wellington one of my firefighters phoned my wife. He was sitting with his siblings around his mother's hospital bed and she was expected to die. Would I lead her service when the end came? First thing on Friday morning I phoned him and assured him I would. I had a long association with both him and his wife, marrying them many years ago. Later that day as I was preparing Robert's funeral I received a call telling me that she had died. A couple of hours after finishing my friend's funeral, I was once again sitting with a grieving family planning for a funeral this coming Tuesday morning. 

I am at once energised and exhausted by this ministry, that seems to follow me. 

Monday, August 15, 2016

"Bugger!" is all I can say.

to brighten the mood - spring is coming. These were on our lawn. 

Since retiring and worshipping at the little Presbyterian Church here, we have got to know a lovely, quietly spoken, gentle man who lives alone. He has been a bachelor all his life working as a draftsman. He lives with diabetes and the early stages of Parkinson's disease. 
He and I have similar theological perspectives and have often chatted about our faith journeys. Also since I am essentially a shy guy who works hard to push my boundaries, I understand and appreciate this man's quiet lack of confidence and hesitancy, that is where I come from.  We both like being bits of loners, but we have enjoyed each other's company. He has taught himself how to play the pipe organ. He designed and built a beautiful boat and had promised to take me for a ride in it. In spite of his quiet uncertainty, he was in fact, a very clever man. 

Last week he had the misfortune to discover a friend of his dead in her house. She had Alzheimers and he had lovingly kept an eye on her since her husband's death earlier this year. He would ring her each morning, and this particular morning she had not responded. When he rang us to tell us about this experience last Wednesday we invited him to come for the evening meal. We listened to him tell us what happened and reflect upon it, but we also found ourselves chatting about life easily and warmly. I was pleased because he seemed to relax in our company.
He was not at Church yesterday and I was not too worried because I knew his deceased friend's relatives would be in town and he could be busy with them. I also knew that the preacher we had for the day was not our favourite and that he may have avoided coming for that reason. At church though, others told of instances when he had been found in the beginnings of a diabetic coma. We began to be concerned because he had said that he would see us at church. We made attempts to contact him at his house where his car was still in the driveway, and by repeated phone calls. We were not able, but were not that despairing, thinking others may have visited him and taken him somewhere. We were not certain of his plans so did not feel we could call the police to break into his house.

Today we heard that they had found him dead in his house, I assume from some sort of diabetic event. I have tried to do stuff, but have found that numbing distracting feeling of grief demotivating me. Every time I have thought of him and his friendship today I have just said, "Bugger!" I have lost yet another friend out of my life. "Bugger" is the only appropriate word. I am sad. Getting old is not easy, sadness seems to be a recurring experience. Since coming home from our trip to the UK I have now lost three fellow, friendly companions on the journey of life. Bugger! 

Saturday, August 6, 2016

Is NZ becoming a third world country?...and sadness again.

A third world country?
Example 1. The Night Shelter in Dunedin needs a new weekend supervisor because of the resignation of one of our guys. I have advertised in the local paper and have been emailing and sometimes sending out by "snail mail" the job descriptions and the application forms. It is the "snail mail" that annoys me. At one time when you posted a letter in Dunedin to a Dunedin address, it was sorted in Dunedin and virtually the next day, or at the most, the day after was delivered. These days it goes all the way to Christchurch, (364 Kilometres) is sorted, and brought back to Dunedin. Here these days we only receive mail on three days a week. (It used to be every day) So when I am posting these things out I am aware that the application form I post will take quite a few days to get there, and then when they post it back, it will require a few days to get back to me. Applications close next Wednesday, so it could be tricky for those relying on "snail mail". It used to be reliable, quick and easy. These days it is a relatively poor service. Are we becoming a "third world" country?
Example 2. A retired firefighter has been in hospital with very bad lung problems. He was full time on oxygen. His prospects looked very grim, and he had resigned himself to dying in the next week or so. There is a drug that could possibly help, the relevant agency in NZ has approved it, but has not purchased it. If they did it would cost heaps. It can be purchased more cheaply via India, but it will take some time to get into the country. It will not arrive in time. It somehow feels "third world". 
Example 3. My friend is spending his last days in Dunedin hospital. There has been a public outcry because the powers-that-be decided that rather than cook meals at Dunedin Hospital, the supply of meals will be contracted out and they will come from Auckland. (1061.71 Kilometres North of Dunedin.) People have reported that the meals, reheated, taste terrible and are of a poor quality. I have thought it was a daft idea flying food all that distance and was annoyed at the loss of Dunedin jobs. But I have not got too worried about the quality of meals, after all you are not in hospital very long. I visited my friend, however, and he said through his oxygen mask, "The meals are crap - the papers are right." When the meal was delivered to him last night while I was visiting he said, "I have to beat myself up to eat them." I thought - here he is, life almost gone, and he has to spend his last days eating bad quality "old" reheated food! I was thinking of ways we could bring in nice food and perhaps some wine, since he loved his wines. Are we a third world country? It feels like it is.
... In the early hours of this morning my friend sadly died. One of my jobs this week will be leading his funeral.
Sadness hits.
I have known my firefighter friend for nearly twenty three years. In that time he went from being a station officer to being deputy chief of Dunedin Fire Service. In all that time, even though he was not an active church man, he has been very supportive of the chaplaincy service. I have interviewed him in Church and on a radio station service. He has confided in me and pointed me toward people needing support. He was the first to get his crew assisting with our community christmas dinners. He has been a supportive presence when others thought a chaplain was not needed in a modern fire service. He called me "Skypilot" a term from his navy days. Today I have moped around grieving, feeling sad. I spend time tomorrow with his family and will later in the week, lead his funeral, but just now, I am sad. It feels like the older you get, the more often you encounter this sadness. Apart from reminding you of your own mortality (he was only three years older than I am) you realise that you are losing people who have journeyed with you.  He and I had stories to tell, history together and things to laugh about, and now he has gone. As he said in a matter of fact way when I first visited, "It happens to us all. That's life." My last words to him were that I would "Love and leave him for now and come back and see him." Sadly I was wrong. His last words to me as I left his room last night were, "Look after yourself."  I'll try Trev, I'll try.