Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, July 1, 2018

Photos of our trip to Edinburgh...

We have been on a five week trip to Edinburgh. We left on May 21st, and arrived home on June 24th. We stopped over, going there and back, for one night in Singapore. Both times we arrived early in the morning and left during the night hours of the next day, so we had time to do some exploring of Singapore.
We spent most of the time with our son and family in Edinburgh. A lot of that time playing and mucking around with our two grandsons, joining in their family life, and incorporating doing some DIY with my son.
While I posted in Edinburgh, I could not master the technology so that I could include photos. So today's post is just some of the photos from our trip.
On the trip to London, enjoying the high walkway between the giant "trees" in the Singapore Gardens.

This garden dome in Singapore Gardens was fantastic... so big, so many different plants from everywhere.

My better half checking out some details.

We had to take several photos.. these two Edinburgh grandsons are perpetual motion.

Second attempt. Notice the proud NZ word on the lounge wall. "Aroha" is Maori for "Love".

Pretending we are rich, swimming in the pool in the hotel in Singapore.

I was thrilled to be able to climb up Arthurs Seat in Edinburgh. This is looking toward Carlton Hill.

The summit of Arthurs Seat. 36 minutes from the bottom to the top with a diversion to Anthony's chapel and a toilet break. It felt good after having my back problems and I still have a numb foot.

Tollgate in Edinburgh - Now a pub, but here many who fought for freedoms we take for granted were imprisoned and roughly treated. It is my "symbol" of the many reminders throughout the UK of the road to the civilisation and society we enjoy today.

Daniel, (our son) Magda (his wife) and Leon and Xavier our grandsons. The reason for our visit to Edinburgh.

War memorial in George Square, Glasgow.

Jean on the high walk way in Singapore.

Inside the garden Dome.

The highest indoor waterfall in the world. 

Xavier, the youngest of our two Edinburgh grandsons.

Cairnmillar Castle an easy walk from where we were staying.

Edinburgh museum - on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

Perth Bridge built in the 1700's - quite impressive.

St John's Church in the middle of Perth, Scotland. It was once Catholic, but John Knox preached a sermon against Idolatry, and a riot broke out against the Catholics. Now it is Church of Scotland. 

Anthony's chapel part way up Arthur's seat in Edinburgh.

The summit of Arthurs seat.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Finding hope when life is dark.

“A fool says in his heart, there is no God.” In my last post I expressed offence at the church noticeboard which had the above quotation (from Psalm 14 or again in Psalm 53) on the front of the church. Since then I have had cause to think further about this quotation, and kind of think that from some perspective, reworded, it highlights a truth.

On Facebook there was a report of a survey of teen suicide in OECD and EU countries. (15 -19 year olds) Compared to other countries, NZ has the worst figures. We have 15.6 per hundred thousand people. That is twice as much as the USA and 5 times as much as Great Britain. I am currently staying in Scotland and realise that we live in a great country in NZ. In my view, more space, better lifestyle, and healthier environment. But why the terrible teen suicide figures? Suicide figures for adult males in our country are quite high also. I am staying with my son in Edinburgh, and yesterday he sadly learned of the suicide of a friend he had when he was a younger man, who he had kept in touch with from a distance. He was stunned.

Why is this happening? Is it because of our individualism? Is it because of our values? Why do we not have resilience that can see us through tough times? Although it is not tough times in itself. Many have all they seem to need in life, and friends apparently? (I was once called in to be available at a workplace where there had been what had been seen as a critical incident. The National HR department had thought it necessary. Chatting informally to the local manager she said she had come from a country where there was always the periodic bombings and civil war. She commented that she had learned just to get on with life, for her New Zealanders did not know what real difficulties were. “You have it so easy here. This is no critical incident.” she commented.) So why are there so many who lose hope? Where is our resilience?

I am not unfamiliar with depression or even suicidal thoughts. There have been times in my life when I have contemplated it. There is a big concrete buttress on the way down the harbour toward our home. At times in the past I have been so depressed, stressed, exhausted or disappointed that I have looked at that and thought, “Maybe I should drive at speed into it?” Or there have been other moments when I have been driving that I just felt like crashing off the road. One time it was quite late in the evening when I left my Church office. I felt so disappointed and down that instead of going home I drove at speed, over the motorway north of Dunedin for nearly 40 miles before parking up in the dark at a beach front for about ten minutes. I had no idea what I planned to do, just somehow could not take life/work any more and wanted out. Family were wondering where I was but I turned my phone off. Eventually I turned back and sheepishly drove home. I said very little even to my wife, slept on it, and picked myself up the next day, growling about the waste of petrol. (I find I have very few people I can open up to. I tend to be the sort of person that goes away by myself and stews on things. Sometimes people trying to get me to talk only exasperates things. I know few who would understand.) Though I have had my battles, I have always managed to pick myself up, and go on. How come I managed, where others I have known, and young people with tons of potential have suicided? What is the difference?

I have been thankful for my “faith”. Not so much that God rushed in and made it all go away. Deep in my being there is a commitment to following the way of Jesus. A commitment to try, with all my faults and weaknesses, to live constructively. This commitment began very early in my life and has only grown as years go by. In these dark moments it has been this that has pulled me through more than anything else. I know that if I “spat the dummy” and gave up on life, I would deny this deep core direction of who I am. ... “I have failed, but I must still try.” “There are no guarantees, I lack the skills, but I must at least keep doing my best.” This deep “faith” has been the source of my power to keep going.

The Psalm says, “A fool says in his heart there is no God.” I would not say that, but I would say that it “is wise to think deeply about where you are going in life, what your core values are, and keep updating that”. That would be the deeper truth I would take from that quote.  I suspect that many people live superficially, living from day to day, living for the moment, letting their senses direct their path. When the “poo hits the fan,” they have no deep compass point to pull them through. When I have been in a dark hole, this deep commitment has eventually emerged, and my inner compass has said, “keep going.” I kind of think that many of us drift through life without sorting out our deep compass point.

I have quoted him before, but the late Steve Covey suggests that to find our deep values, we imagine our funeral. Ask ourselves, “What would I like my workmates to be able say about me? ... my family? ... my community? My friends?” Covey says that in answering these questions, our deep values in life will emerge. Then, he says, we need to take them on board and keep reminding ourselves who we are.

It is wise to think about, and keep alive your core values or directions in life. They can give you resilience in the dark places. My mind thinks of words by Frankl, or Schweitzer, or other thinkers and writers. But I humbly share my experiences. I am distressed about suicide stats, people I know who have killed themselves and many, many people, who live like “sheep without a shepherd” and get themselves in a mess.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Offensive Church sign.

We have visited the city of Perth in Scotland. We tend to randomly wander around the places we visit.  I take an interest in the Churches, and what they look like to the passing public. Empty, unused or boarded up Churches send a message - “The Christian Faith is no longer relevant!” Churches would be better to pull the building down if they are left empty to rot. Many Churches have a very fortress like look, like they do not want you to come in. Sometimes the signs are so old looking that you wonder if in fact something still happens inside. Sometimes the sign is an A4 sheet of paper shoved in a noticeboard with times of worship and “All Welcome” underneath, in a very amateur looking way. I seem to think most basic computers and printers are capable of something more inviting than this. We who run Churches ought to look with dispassionate eyes at the street front of our buildings and ask ourselves about what sort of message it is sending? Someone has said, “Everything the Church does, or does not do, communicates!” What message are we sending by our street front look?
In Perth there were two Churches which had quite clear signage, but the message of the signs made me wonder how today’s secular people would reacte to them?
One said on a big draped banner,
                   “BY JESUS’ DEATH, WE ARE FORGIVEN!”
Now to a traditional Christian or a person who has attended Church, this might mean something. Somehow through what Christians call “the atonement” Jesus death enabled God to forgive us. There are various explanations of this, some are quite gross, others are just hard to comprehend. If we express doubt about it we are told to just have faith and “believe”. A traditional Christian could see the meaning of it, though I think few could explain it. I have studied theology and the New Testament all my adult life and I find the statement off putting. The best I could say is that Jesus life and death demonstrates the love at the heart of the universe, so I know full acceptance.... or something like that. But what does my brewery worker whose experience of Church is the odd funeral service they have to endure, make of it? What would my totally secular, anti religion fire fighter make of it? Or the mum with three kids in tow, struggling to keep them together as she rushes past the church wondering what and how she is going to cook dinner tonight? “By Jesus’ death I am forgiven? What for? Yelling at my kids? What the hell did I do to Jesus? Why do I need forgiven? I’m just doing the best I can, trying to raise my kids.” Most if they noticed it at all would just think “Religious gobbledygook.” and it would reinforce in their mind that religion is irrelevant.
Across the road another church had a professionally printed sign, though looking a bit tattered, quoting a biblical psalm.
I know this is quoting scripture, but stuck on the outside of a church, out of context it is to me, offensive. The psalm was written thousands of years ago, in a different culture. It is a phrase taken out of a certain type of poetry. Confronting people in today’s world with that is offensive. It is often very hard for the best of us to believe in “God”. I recall a life long church attending grandfather, whose gifted teenage granddaughter was dying of cancer, shaking his head and saying to me almost in anger, “Is there a God?” Was he “a fool”? I have atheist friends, who are wise, thoughtful, compassionate people, and it seems cowardly and insulting for the church to blatantly post on its public notice board a sign essentially saying, “You’re a fool!” If you were having a conversation with them you would not dare say, “You’re a fool.” It would be considered aggressive, offensive and an insult. Why then paste it on the front of a church which is meant to promote a way of love? Again most thinking people, whether or not they were ‘believers’ would in my mind, be turned off a church with that sort of approach.
Everything the church does, or does not do, communicates. What does the front of your church say to the people passing by?

Saturday, June 2, 2018

Job related PTSD

Post traumatic stress is something that I have learned about as chaplain to the fire service and the local St John ambulance service. What can happen as part of this experience is that after attending some traumatic incident the emergency worker can find themselves sort of reliving that incident, and unable to move on. Sometimes they can wake up at night in a hot flush, with night mares, reliving the experience or something even worse. I have found that many emergency workers given time can help each other to work through the issues.
Other workers...
I have found that perhaps to a lesser extent, the stress of our work places means that workers in other jobs can have experiences similar to PTSD. I have heard of accountants waking up sweating about losing money in the numbers they are working on. When people retire the stress that they have been living under still emerges when they relax, or sleep. They have been living with stress for years with their responsibilities and the body and brain will not let them switch off. Sometimes they can even wake up worrying that they have nothing to stress about, they think they must have forgotten something they should be attending to.
When I retired or when I went on holiday, such recurring dreams hit me. Sometimes I would be standing in front of a congregation in my dream, with nothing prepared! Sometimes it is a funeral setting and I have forgotten to prepare. There can be too unresolved grief. The minister has led so many funerals for people he has travelled with that he just feels an overwhelming sadness. Sometimes it is reliving incidents in the past.
Forty years accumulated stress.
When I retired I had been in ministry of some sort for over forty years. Ministry can be difficult. In any congregation there is a wide range of theological positions. In my last 27 year ministry I recall a young man vehemently saying to me that I was not a true Christian because of my perspective on the devil. Another rang up and told me I was not open to the Holy Spirit who, he said, was doing a new thing with the “Spiritual laughter” in church. (A fad which did not last long) A man complained that I did not push the second coming and what he saw as prophecy tell us when it will happen. (The millennium came and went without a hitch?) Then in any congregation there is a wide range of tastes in music. I often felt I was “piggy in the middle” as people complained to me about my choices. Every Sunday too, a progressive Christian thinking minister has to lead a service for people steeped in a different paradigm of the Christian faith. I felt the need to push people’s thinking, but at the same time in pastoral care, not causing too much pain by undermining their faith. Often I felt I compromised my own position. I sometimes almost felt a loss of integrity as I presented, and a lack of freedom to be myself. I got reminded by people, “Don’t forget the old people! They built this church.” “They have had to put up with lots of changes already!” Sometimes there were lively conversations about such positions, which hurt me more than I recognised. I had a dream for our inner city church that we could become a hub in the city, where life enriching community groups felt encouraged and supported. To some extent the dream became a reality. We did exciting things like community Christmas dinners; a drop in centre; partnering with new immigrants groups, sustainability groups, the local city council, the immigration department and other positive community service ventures. I was pleased that the leadership allowed these things to happen, though full support was not as forthcoming as could be. I actually took on an extra chaplaincy to help fund part of this community outreach.  There was one moment when I was asked by a community group if I would run a service, greatly needed in the city for vulnerable people. (still!) I did not have the necessary resources but a Christian social work agency was prepared to supply them, if we gave use of the facilities. It seemed a great step from my point of view. It would expand what we already offered, establish us as a more relevant, serving Christian community, but also it would make other programs we ran easier, because these people were disrupting them. I took it to the church leadership, and one man vehemently opposed the project.At one stage he was yelling at me! The others just looked at the floor and capitulated to him. I was angry, hurt and deeply disappointed. After that I made definite plans to retire. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. When I retired for quite some time I had PTSD.
I would be woken up with a night mare, hot and flushed heart racing. It may have been back in my office being told I was not a Christian. Another maybe that leader screaming at me. Another arguing with my organist over hymns. Another would be waking up with deep sadness about what could/should have been achieved. Another might be deep guilt that I gave up. So the dreams went on, gradually decreasing.

We have moved on. We are now busy supporting another congregation in a voluntary capacity. We are doing similar community orientated ministries, and excited about the progress. But... nearly five years later, I am currently visiting my son and family in Scotland. We have switched off from our current work, playing with grandchildren, sightseeing in Edinburgh, and I have discovered that nightmares about ministry, particularly that final 27 years have emerged again. PTSD happens for people doing other work. Not just for emergency workers. Along the way I have talked it through with my supervisor. We wondered the other night if further counselling may be in order. We’ll see.

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Two women of compassion.

Example one.
We are on a four week trip to visit our son and family in Edinburgh, Scotland. On a thirteen hour flight sitting next to us was an elderly woman nearly in her eighties. She seemed to be still in good health and quite fit. We learned that she had been a nurse in an emergency ward for much of her working life. Of course on such a long flight the subject of coping with the flight comes up. My wife told her that our doctor had given us a sleeping pill we could take to help us sleep to make the flight easier. This elderly lady said that she had thought of that option and was indeed offered it, but she chose not to. She gave her reason. “I recognise that I have skills that could be helpful in an emergency on the plane. If I had a sleeping pill and something happened I would not be at my best.” When my wife told me of this conversation I was full of admiration. At nearly eighty, this woman still felt a responsibility to be there for others if it was necessary. - I thought it was a pretty cool attitude to have.
Second example.
We headed from Dunedin, NZ to Auckland in the early evening of a Monday. At about midnight we flew from Auckland to Singapore, about a ten hour flight. We arrived at about 7 a.m. local time. We were transported to our hotel, and after a bit of a rest we explored a bit of the city. Later in the evening we went to bed. We were wakened in the night by construction work carrying on during the night on the building opposite. (A massive mobile crane working) The next day we explored Singapore again, with an afternoon visit to the Gardens by the Bay. After tasting the local food for dinner, at 10 p.m. we travelled to the airport, waiting to catch a plane to London. Going through security my wife’s carry on luggage was held up. She was taken aside and little steel nail clippers were found. I was then led away for my luggage to be checked more thoroughly. Then the woman checking me asked, “Where is your wife.” “I don’t know!” I snapped at her, “That guy took her away!” We were reunited and the offending nail clippers confiscated. We comforted each other by saying, at least we should be happy they are keeping the plane safe.
We took off at around 2a.m. headed for London, arriving there at about 8 a.m. London time after 13 hours. We stopped for coffee at Heathrow airport, and really tired now, found the bus centre, and caught the appropriate bus for the one and a half hour trip to Stanstead Airport. It was crowded with heaps of people passing through and poor facilities for the numbers it was coping with. Finally we got through security and had to rush down a long walk way to find gate 84. People pushed passed us. I was getting cranky. At one stage a guy rushed past me shoving my shoulder and I found myself lifting my hand in annoyance, wanting to shove him back.... but I resisted... just. My wife, who gets easily short of breathe was puffing and red faced. We arrived in the que before they shut the gate. Jean wiped the sweat from her brow. I looked at her, she was completely exhausted, standing there puffing. But she was distracted. A young father looking after a baby and a young boy was just ahead, Jean was smiling at the boy. We went through the gate and waited yet again in a stairway leading to the tarmac and our plane. The young father was trying to strap his baby girl into a car seat, hold on to his luggage and keep his adventurous son close by. My wife seeing his predicament engaged the boy in friendly chatter, and smiled and chatted with the little girl. Then looking at the young father asked, “How are you going to manage? Will you need help? We could help?” “Whaaat?” I said under my breathe, “We are going to be struggling to get you up the steps to the plane!” The young man said he had it all worked out, but my wife continued to offer our help. “Just yell if you need us.” We got on the plane and I found myself helping the little boy find row 21. As I settled in my seat I could not help but admire my wife. 70 years old, exhausted after days travelling, with very little sleep, and physically drained, she was still filled with compassionate empathy for this young man and his children. I, on the other hand, was just focused on me and the crowds were just a nuisance. She is the real deal, compassionate when the going gets tough.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Funeral Instructions!

I have often said to my wife, "I want that song at my funeral!" or "I don't want that song!" or "I want this reading." In exasperation she said, "Well you better write it all down!" So tonight I did... an interesting experience. It will probably change if I keep living long enough and evolve, but at the moment here it is....

David Brown’s: Funeral Instructions- as at 20th May 2018

Opening Reading: John 10:7-10
*Opening Hymn… Mission Praise 162 “From Heaven you came” (“Servant King”)

Other Readings: * Luke 10:25-37 (Good Samaritan) an essential one!
                              Luke 15:1-3, 11 – 24 (“Waiting Father” or Prodigal son)

*Hymn: NZ Praise K1 “Brother Sister let me serve you…”

(Other possible Hymns: - I’d like there to be lots of singing to communicate what was important to me. – and not so much talking.)
“Who is my mother” to tune… “Morning has broken…”
and “Be thou my vision”)

*Final Hymn: WOV 183 “I danced in the morning…” (Lord of the Dance)

*Benediction: (the last act in the service)  “Te Aroha” song… (All sing)

Te aroha                  (Love)
Te whakapono         (hope/faith)
Me te rangimarie (Peace)
Tatou tatou e           (to all)

Te aroha
Te whakapono
Me te rangimarie
Tatou tatou e

Other music: (Perhaps reflection time) Waylon Jennings “I do believe…” and also Sinead O'Conner "Make me a channel of your peace."

Going Out : Vince Gill “Go rest high upon that mountain” (In my case Mt Cargill)

I wish my ashes to be spread up near the top of Mt Cargill (over the bush)

Quote: “I don't know what your destiny will be, but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve.” - Albert Schweitzer

Thursday, May 17, 2018

Great gift.

The card with the gift of English money.
Two brand new Ambulances were dedicated. The "Official party" after the ceremony.
This week has involved two little extra things in my chaplaincy role. I am chaplain for St John Ambulance so a "Dedication ceremony" had been planned for Wednesday at 1:30p.m. Then I had news of the death of a retired fire fighter. He had died up in the North Island. They were having a service here in Dunedin, and the family sent a message to ask if I would read a "Fire Fighter's prayer" at the service. It was to be held at 3:00 p.m. There was a quarter of an hour travel between the two places. I saw the list of speakers at the ambulance dedication and spent Tuesday night worrying about what I would do if the two events clashed. My part was the last part of the first gathering. I was so relieved. All the speakers were short and to the point, so there was no need to panic. At both the St John Ambulance ceremony and the fire fighter's funeral, I felt warmly welcomed and an important part of the process. There were heaps of retired fire fighters to catch up with. But I came away feeling privileged to be part of both groups.
As chaplain to the fire fighters in Dunedin, I visit fire stations on two days a week, usually Tuesday and Friday afternoons. We are going to have a break for four weeks, and on Thursday I did some extra time to show my temporary replacement the fire stations and introduce her to some of the guys. We had visited three suburban stations and found nobody home. We then went to the central city station and found everybody there for a special training event. Of course we went up close to watch what they were doing. In due course it finished and the crews headed for their fire trucks to go home to their suburban stations. One man asked if I was visiting their station. I said that we had already dropped by there and we were not sure if we had time to go again. He motioned for me to come with him, as he strode off to the fire truck. He clambered in the back seat and emerged back out with an envelope, which he handed to me, saying "Have a great holiday! We appreciate you." It contained a card with the message on the front saying, "There's nothing better than a good friend, ....except a good friend with chocolate."
Inside this was a hand written note;
"Thank you for all you do for other people - we appreciate it.

Have a great holiday and we hope you have time to enjoy a meal on us.

... also you Jean, for all the work you do at the hospital,
travel safe ...."

(signed by the fire fighter and his wife)

Tucked into the card was a considerable gift of money! I was blown away. I have known this man for 24 years, we have often talked, often too we have been part of group conversations. He has never asked for my help on any specific issue, but has just been a friendly presence in my chaplaincy journey with the fire fighters.

Of course I did not open the card immediately but my replacement and I went for a cup of tea, and opened it and found the gift and message. She just said, "Wow that is something!"

I am indeed privileged.