Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Dunedin hospital/ACC "poor me" gripe.

A few months ago I got referred to the urology department at Dunedin hospital, NZ because I was retaining fluid. A cystoscopy (which caused a scary infection) revealed it was caused by scar tissue from previous TURP operations. It would be fair to say that New Zealand's public health system is not in good shape, it has not received sufficient funding. (The Political Party that has been in for nearly a decade before the current party favoured private health options.) Dunedin hospital's Urology department seems to have gained a reputation for its waiting lists of patients. In New Zealand we have the "Accident Compensation Corporation" which administers the country's no-fault accidental injury scheme. The scheme provides financial compensation and support to citizens, residents, and temporary visitors who have suffered personal injury. The specialist who checked the cystoscopy suggested that since it was scar tissue, ACC might fund the needed operation, so that maybe I would get the operation earlier. An application was lodged. I am waiting for the result of that while a catheter is in place. I had another four day spell in hospital recently with an infection - it happens while wearing a catheter. The ACC wrote to me recently asking if I would sign a form to allow them to have more time to make a decision. If I did not sign the form they would make a decision on the information that they had. I agreed, thinking that I am more likely to get a positive result if they had the time they need. But I am pretty desperate, I HATE having a catheter in place.
Reaching out in frustration!
In frustration, I wrote an open letter to ACC which went in with the return form, with a copy to the Dunedin Hospital Urology department.
Here is what I wrote...

An open note to those involved in ACC and to the Urology Dept. Dunedin Hospital.
My NHI number (XXXXX.)   ACC claim number (XXXXXX)
Dear people,

I am signing the form from ACC agreeing to more time being taken to assess my case for surgery. However, I do want to make a plea for as much speed as possible in making the decision.  I am waiting for surgery, wearing a catheter with a whole heap of consequences for life. I am used to waiting.  Since 2012 I have spent a lot of time waiting.
·      I waited almost a year with a catheter prior to my unsuccessful surgery in March 2013.
·      I waited almost another year while self-catheterising before I had successful surgery in Invercargill late February 2014.
·      In 2017 I waited for 8 months of uncertainty for a biopsy after a digital examination.

I was referred to Urology after a back injury and an ED doctor noted that I was retaining fluid late February 2018. I have had appointments with continence nurses and the Urology nurse, but apart from the cystoscopy, which involved the briefest communication of the results and need for surgery, I have not had a “real consultation/conversation” with a urologist. (Except helpful conversations with the Wellington team after I was admitted there via the ED because of a klebsiella pneumonia infection a few days after the Dunedin cystoscopy. – this was an extremely distressing episode because I had been asked to be celebrant for a friend’s funeral, and the bereaved family had to find somebody else at the last moment)
The “waiting” experience…
Wearing a catheter is not much fun for someone who is trying to keep active and doing things.
·      Infections are always possible and this tends to limit what you can do. I have found that when you have a catheter in place, if you do hard physical activity it often leads to blood clots in the urine, and the possibility of infections. I was admitted to Dunedin hospital on October 5th for four days because of an infection. (again that prevented me leading a Church service.) I have a big vege garden to plant and enjoy exercise.
·      It knocks your confidence in mixing with people. I am retired but am still doing chaplaincy at Fire Service, St John Ambulance and Speights brewery, leading two services a month at the local Church and volunteer in the community.  So I am mixing with people, lead services, funerals, etc.  I once had a catheter system come apart while browsing in a crowded hardware store. I was peeing uncontrollably!  For me the uncertainty involved in wearing a catheter in such circumstances increases the stresses involved incredibly.
·      It limits travel/holidays.  We have grandchildren in Wellington, Christchurch and Edinburgh. We cannot make plans to visit for two reasons. (1) We don’t know when surgery might be possible. (2) Once in the night as I tossed and turned in my sleep, I pulled out the connection to my night bag and woke up in a pool of pee. Imagine if that happened in a motel bed?  Summer visits can’t happen this year it seems!
·      It does nothing for your sex life! (enough said)
So while I am happy to sign the form agreeing to an extension of time, I plead for as much haste as possible. My wife has been phoning ACC and hospitals (She is aware of my state of mind) and disappointing delays in communication seem apparent. I know there are many in worse situations, but still feel compelled to ask for sensitivity to the depressing experience of waiting while wearing a catheter and trying still to lead a useful life.

Yours sincerely,  ....

I have to admit that this period of wearing a catheter has had a bigger impact on my "mental health" than my earlier experiences. I have a flip-flo valve so am not carrying a leg bag, but I plug in to a night bag over night. I have simply felt depressed. I find I feel like I am on the verge of tears, and watching TV, hearing a sad story, seeing a sad or challenging film, reading the newspaper will often bring tears to my eyes. (Today I watched a clip from the "Scully" film - the plane landing on the Hudson River- and my eyes filled with tears) Twice while leading church services recently I have had to "take a moment" to control my emotions, to  be able to carry on. This cannot be all blamed on the catheter. With my back problems earlier in the year and the re-emergence of prostate issues, I realise I am no longer "bullet proof".  But I am finding that more than ever, I tend to want to avoid mixing with people.  Sometimes the slightest anti-reaction from a person will throw me more than ever. e.g. the fire fighters have teased me for years. It is just part of the good natured banter of the place and a fire chief once told me, "They only do it to people they love." But these days I find I sometimes come away thinking I wished they wouldn't.  People want my opinion or involvement in something, and my first thought is, "Bugger off", where as I would generally welcome the challenge. My wife has been hounding both hospital and ACC and there seems to be some discrepancy in answers given, which is disappointing. 
Dig deep and keep going...
In it all I am learning to dig deep and keep going. I keep successfully leading Church services, I keep on mixing with and listening to people in my chaplaincies, and keep doing things. But I do choose on occasion to step back just to protect myself. 

The day after I posted this blog I received a letter from the Accident Compensation Corporation saying that they would fund my operation. There's light at the end of the tunnel! :-)
This is a photo a guy took during an Armistice Day Centenary Sunday service we held. We advertised and nearly doubled the size of the little congregation. There was a good response.

These photos are of a Command Unit dedication ceremony that followed a St John Ambulance Church parade I led.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

Jack died at 93

"Well done good and faithful servant."

I led a funeral for a man who has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. His name was Jack Botting, he was an Electrician and died at the age of 93 a week and a half ago. I led his wife's funeral 20 months ago. Sadly I led his daughter's funeral after her untimely death, in January of this year. He had always wanted me to take his funeral, and asked for me when he knew he was getting toward the end. I was relatively close to him, and where as I usually hold it together leading funerals of people I know, this time as I talked of him I started to choke up and had to apologise and "take a moment". I share some bits out of the funeral and eulogy I used at the funeral. In many ways he was so different than I am, but I owe him a lot. He modeled integrity, Christian generosity, hospitality and good humour.

"Jack has been like a close Uncle in my life. He was 10 years younger than my father, but a close friend of his. I think tradesmen are often drawn to each other because they value each other’s work and experiences in a way they are not valued in society at large. Jack and Dad were tradesmen in the same Church congregation and simply good mates. .They spent hours talking through life together, and Jack supported my dad and our family during some pretty tough times. Since then Jack has always been a supportive presence in my life.  So I need to say, I come as a mourner as well as the celebrant today. Since last Friday I have felt a sadness and deep loss happening in my life."

"...for me Jack’s faith was best seen in his generosity and love of others. His cheeky grin and wink warmed your heart. He was just so generous, accepting and friendly toward all types of people. Some body new to Church, Jack would be the one to initiate conversation. Through facilitating Sunday lunches in various restaurants and pubs, Jack would keep the NEV members together, and in time the Sunday lunch group grew to include others. Jack with other men looked after the kitchen for monthly women’s dinners. He often provided vegetable soup for the Friday night drop in centre. At Christmas time some precious new potatoes from his garden would be on the menu for our Community Christmas dinners. He helped transport to and from the Christmas dinner and at times took meals to people unable to come.
Jack loved his vege garden and was a good gardener, generous with his vegetables.
Jack with Roy Martin were inventors and explored various projects together. There were draught stops for doors, little flow restrictors that go in by ball valves in plumbing installations and of course the pumps which he continued to explore and develop.

Jack loved his family. He loved Florence. His nickname for her was often “Pet”… “Do you want a cup of tea Pet?” He was proud of her for her work with the elderly, her energy and intellect. He loved Paula and Anne and their families. He often said, “We are so lucky, the girls keep an eye on us. They are so good.” You could see in his eyes love and pride whenever he talked of his family, and as he got older he so appreciated their support. This has been so true over these last few years.

Pictures of Jack…
1.   Coming home from school when I was about 8 and finding Jack wiring in a flash new electric range. Mum had very inadequate cooking facilities, and Jack had decided to gift this to our family. Mum was in tears of appreciation.
2.   My father had a Bradford plumbers van. The motor blew up. Jack financed dad into a new van which dad could pay off as and when he was able.
3.   When my father died in 1964, kids were excluded from funeral preparation discussions. On that day Jack took us boys to the cricket at Carisbrook, fed us on icecreams and pies. If one of us began to tear up, he would just move beside us and put his arm around us.
4.   After Dad died, mum had five kids to keep and raise. Jack would often just turn up every now and then with veges, have a cup of tea, and check how things were going. He would ask us kids about school and sport.
5.   When I was in ministry at St Andrew Street Jack so often expressed his support in a simple, yet effective way. During the first hymn, when I would be nervously standing there, our eyes would lock, he would simply grin and wink. When he was serving at the communion table, as he returned the trays, he would often give a quick wink. After Church, when I would be emotionally drained, he would place his hand on my shoulder as he passed by, and simply say, “you’re doin’ so good, I’m proud of you.” and rush out the door with a wave and a wink.
6.   About ten years ago I had a van which had a motor that blew up. History repeated itself. I had a phone call from Jack. “You do so much good with your van, if you don’t tell anyone about it, I can give you $3000 toward a new van.” I turned him down, but I so appreciated the generosity and support expressed.

I’ll stop there for now and let others speak. On Monday while Anne took a brief break, I sat by Jack’s bed holding his hand, while he struggled to breathe, and memories flooded my mind. My heart was so full of appreciation for all this cheeky smiling man has brought into my life."

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Need to change the heading.
I needed to change the heading of my blog. The heading referred to "an over 60 year old...", but that "over 60 year old" is now an over 70 year old. I have just had my "three score and ten" birthday, which is quite a landmark. Unintentionally I have been celebrating my birthday for about a week. It was on a Thursday and my wife presented me with a few personal presents such as a coat, a book and a wallet.  On that day we travelled 3 hours north of Dunedin and stayed the night in a "boutique apartment" with a spa bath and four poster bed. The next day we headed north again to the resort town of Hanmer Springs. My New Zealand based children had rented two houses next to one another and our daughter and son-in-law from Dunedin went up; our son and his family from Christchurch travelled about an hour and a half to Hanmer; and our son and family from Wellington caught the ferry across Cook Strait, and traveled a few hours south to Hanmer. There were twelve of us, including four active grandchildren. (We missed our son and family in Edinburgh) We stayed Friday night, Saturday night and Sunday night enjoying the scenery, forest walks and hot springs of Hanmer. It was a special family time. On the Monday we all went in various directions to our homes again. My wife and I drove the nearly 500k back to our house in Dunedin on the Monday.
I was aware that my older brother and his wife, who live in Australia, were traveling through NZ and were planning to be paying a quick visit to Dunedin during the week. With phone calls backwards and forwards, my youngest brother and his wife invited us to join them, and my older brother, for an evening at their new house about three quarters of an hour north of Dunedin. On the Tuesday evening we drove North again to go to this "pot luck" meal. When I got there I found that my sister and her partner had traveled about four hours from Christchurch, and another brother and his wife had traveled two hours to be there. All of my siblings in one place to celebrate my seventieth birthday! It is very seldom we can all be together. We had a great night of memories, laughter and generally catching up.
At the meal we got to talking about "my" Mount Cargill, a hill that overlooks Dunedin. We shared memories, and my older brother said something like, "Of course you will not be walking up it these days, Dave." It was a statement, not a question. I felt stunned, and was going to object, but remembered that because of injury, sickness, busyness and perhaps laziness, it had been a long time since I had climbed my mountain. While I have had more than my share of various sicknesses lately, and still have artificial plumbing in place, it never occurred to me that my climbing days would be over. At 4 p.m. on the Wednesday I climbed my mountain. I saw it as a fitting end to my week long birthday celebrations. I loved doing it, and in spite of my lack of practice, I climbed it easily, perhaps only 3 minutes longer than my average time. My birthday celebrations were not over. We run a games night at the local Church on Friday night and a young 6 year old and her little brother came up to me. They both had made Birthday cards for me and presented me with a cake of chocolate.
Reflection on turning 70.
I had started writing this post in Hanmer, and it was going to be a reflection on "Have I wasted my life by investing it in the Church?" It was likely to be a bit of a negative perspective. That may come, but while walking my mountain I decided to change it. At 70 years of age I am simply thankful.
I am thankful for my parents and the people around me as I grew up. I had people who were good role models and built a good foundation for my life. Looking back as an adult, each of them were floored and if I sat with them now, I perhaps would want to argue with them on some of their perspectives. But they essentially loved me and guided me, to enable me to be equipped to handle life.
I am thankful for the various experiences I had growing up. I had experiences of living in a full house, with four siblings and often a boarder or two thrown in. I had experiences of farm life during holidays. We often took part in DIY projects around the house. I enjoyed being a plumbing apprentice and learning a trade. Working on cars as a teenager was an incredible problem-solving learning experience. Being part of youth groups and taking leadership roles. Even the bad experiences, I am thankful for. We were a relatively poor family and had to learn to "make-do" and enjoy life without access to lots of material pleasures. My father died when I was a young teenager. It was a traumatic experience, but looking back, an incredibly maturing, growing time in my life.
I am thankful for my theological training, the colleagues I came to know, the teachers and the challenges involved. I am thankful for the experience of living in another country, learning to appreciate it, but growing in my appreciation of my home country also.
I am thankful for my wife and family, and the journey so far. There have certainly been challenges, but also there have been lots of achievements. We have had a good partnership and journey together. I have enjoyed being part of groups - the drop-in centre we ran, Habitat for Humanity, the Night Shelter group. I have enjoyed nearly 25 years of workplace chaplaincy, enjoying fire fighters, paramedics and brewery workers.
I have enjoyed heaps of personal growth, changing perspective and deepening understandings. I find that even at my age, I still feel young and appreciate the adventure of growing as a person, looking at new perspectives and trying new things.
As people say, "long story short" - my 70 years have been pretty enriching, fulfilling and worthwhile living and for that I am deeply, deeply thankful. If you have been part of that..... THANKYOU.
Snow capped mountains encircle Hanmer Springs.
We drove up the centre of the South Island, the scenery is beautiful. 
Our youngest grandchild enjoys clambering on a statue of a dog, shaped out of a tree stump.
We enjoyed two bush walks with the grandchildren.
"Nan" (my wife) joins her to discuss the dog. 
Our second bush walk - NZ is a beautiful country.
Family members meandering through the parklands.
My son and three grandchildren explore a creek.
The five Brown kids and their partners. The men on the left and head of the table are the four brothers. The lady at the front on the right is our sister.

I love the bush on "my" Mount Cargill.
The cairn on top of my mountain 
Some parts are rather steep, but I am pleased to be able to walk them.
My second birthday cake.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

Prostate issues revisited.

Here we go again...
Since about 2011 I have had various experiences with prostate issues. I once wore a catheter and bag for about 12 months before an unsuccessful operation in 2013. Then I self catheterised until a successful operation in 2014. Since then, as far as I felt, things have been fine. Early this year, however, I injured my back and the doctor in the Emergency Department checked out my bladder for retention. I was, according to her, retaining too much fluid. She referred me to Urology at the hospital and their investigations confirmed her findings. They wanted me to go back to a catheter or at least to self catheterise. I debated with them. "I am healthy." I argued. "You could get infections though?" they replied. "But in my experience as soon as you start poking things up there, I WILL get infections. Leave it alone, we'll keep an eye on blood tests and if they start being a concern, then we'll do something." (I found I could not self catheterise anyway.) The last appointment I had they decided to put a camera "up there", and they told me I will require further surgery. They warned me that this procedure may cause discomfort and some blood in the urine for the next few days. 
A holiday that got extended...
The next day we were leaving town to go to Wellington (NZ's capital city) to look after our grandchildren there for three days, then have two nights "rest" before coming home. On that day I learned that a man I knew quite well had died of a heart attack, and his parents asked if I could take the funeral. So we arranged for it to happen a week later, a Tuesday, knowing we would return home on the Sunday before. For the three days we were looking after the children I felt that "discomfort" and I began having trouble passing a decent amount of urine. I had feelings of being cold. Then on the Friday night I woke in the middle of the night shaking uncontrollably, getting hot, then cold and with a blinding headache. Next morning I went to the emergency department of Wellington hospital. My temperature was very high, my pulse also was very fast... I was unwell. They admitted me, put a catheter and bag in and began intravenously feeding me antibiotics, saying that 24 hours should let me still catch the plane back to Dunedin and be well enough to take the funeral. But after 24 hours my condition had not changed and I had to phone the family and get them to arrange someone else to take the funeral. I stayed in hospital for another three days, and then flew home, catheter and bag still in place, and a long course of antibiotic pills. I had been very sick apparently. 
Back to the future...
I have got the message from Dunedin hospital that I will be wearing a catheter and bag until I get surgery! (Heaven knows when that will happen?) I am learning all over again how to cope. On the first night at home I kicked the tubes and it came apart, so we had a wet bed to clean up. Lesson learned. On the third day home I decided I needed to get back and visit chaplaincies. I climbed into my van and headed off, then I felt my shoe filling with pee. I had knocked the tap on the brake pedal of the van. I have now got it worked out, but it is not easy. I led a funeral the other day and was conscious as I stood in front of everybody that I had this apparatus in my trousers. I cancelled my attendance at a conference in August. I could not imagine coping with it all staying in a hotel with others. It takes longer to shower and dress. It often is uncomfortable. ... and I could go on about the inconveniences of it all. In hospital I had "urosepsis" which sounded scary when I read about it on line. It was no wonder the doctors looked concerned when I was not responding. I looked up the bug that they say caused it and learned that it is a bug that is almost always encountered in hospital or health care facilities and usually the troubles happen through contaminated medical equipment being used. I was not happy when I heard that, and my already low confidence in the Dunedin Hospital Urology procedures, went lower! I remember my warning to them, "If you start poking things up there, I WILL get infections." The impact on us and others over that time was quite disturbing.
But I enjoyed hospital...
In hospital I was sick, I had trouble getting sleep, the cold porridge and soggy toast for breakfast was ghastly, but weirdly, I did enjoy it. I loved the compassion of the doctors and more so the nurses. I met some lovely people, and really appreciated their care. They were simply quality people. Also there were texts and messages from people in my chaplaincies, expressing concern, best wishes and a desire to help. I laughed. On facebook I had an update ending with "Wish me luck." A hard shot guy at the brewery responded with, "Luck's got nothing to do with it, just get your sad sorry lard arse back here!" I responded with "I love you too Ken." because really it was his way of saying, "I am concerned about you." Fire fighters sent messages of concern, encouragement and offers of help. A forklift driving woman from the brewery messaged me offering to do anything that needed done at my house then said, "This is a bit awkward, but do you need money?" I felt very treasured and supported by the people I am chaplain to, and that has continued with people still offering help, if I need it.  I enjoyed the quality people I met in hospital and the ongoing support I have received. I am indeed privileged. 
A nice encounter...
In  the hospital there was a quietly spoken Pacific Island woman who delivered meals. I committed myself to say to everyone who served me there, a warm "thank you" for whatever they did. I applied this rule to the specialists, the nurses, through to the cleaning staff, and this lady who delivered my meals always got thanked. I noticed how long her hours were and chatted to her about that saying, "I hope they pay you well." On my final day she had asked me my preferences for meals. I told her, but by lunch time they had told me I could leave and I waited in the lounge room for my wife to pick me up. The "meal deliverer" came through delivering lunch to rooms nearby. I told her I was leaving so would not need the meals for the day, and thanked her again for looking after me during my stay. She went on her way down the corridor. After a brief time I heard her calling, "David!" and she rushed into the room with a meal, put it on the table in the middle of the room, lined up a chair and simply said, "Eat! ... before you go!" With a wave and a smile she left the room. I enjoyed the connection. .... in my experience, most people are beautiful people. I listen the other day to a You tube clip of Louis Armstrong singing, "What a beautiful world." and I said, "Amen, Lou, amen!"

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?