Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

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.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Why the violence?

New Zealand seems to be a very violent society these days.
  • Domestic violence, including unbelievable abuse of children, seems to feature very often in our news. We have very high domestic violence statistics. Police report that so much of their time and resources are taken up responding to incidents in the home.
  • Unprovoked street violence. I knew a man who was visiting Auckland down by the water front. He was just a tourist walking around with a friend. Without provocation some young men took to them, and he has ended up with an injury that will not get better. I talked to a father whose son was walking in the centre of Dunedin city and some drunken person came from behind jumping on his leg, breaking his leg. To an older generation person like me, it seems unbelievable. We could wander around city streets without a worry into the small hours of the morning. Unprovoked, spur of the moment angry violence seems on the increase.
  • Violence around the night scene. Similar to this is that often areas where there are bars and night clubs can be dangerous areas, particularly when they are shutting down and people are moving off. Often too as groups of half cut people interact and travel from bar to bar, violence can happen.
  • Party violence.  It feels like almost every weekend there will be some report/s of a party that has ended up with some sort of violent incident. It can be what was intended to be some happy family event that suddenly turns sour. Sometimes its a party of young people that has been gate crashed by unwelcome guests.  
  •  School violence. There have been videos of school children fighting, sometimes after school or in the school ground. Videos are posted on social media. Bullying and kid-gangs picking on others seem to be increasing. They were around when I was a boy, but the violence seems to be up a grade or two, uninhibited, more persistent and more treacherous. 
  • Violent robberies. Again it seems these are on the increase. Once working at night in a dairy store would not be a worry, but virtually weekly we are shown security footage of frenzied attacks on scared shop keepers by aggravated burglars seeking money, cigarettes or booze. 
  • Violence toward paramedics! Often I am hearing about violence toward our ambulance officers. It seems unbelievable, but these people go to help the sick or injured and they are attacked. Sometimes it is by the patient themselves, and at other times it is by friends of the patient.  
  • I know a man who is a nice bloke. He has been in prison, but in recent years has tried to go straight. I enjoyed his company and through the Night Shelter Trust had contributed to his transformation. He seemed to be sorting life out, and had found a caring partner. But he is now back in prison. What went wrong? There were two bad mistakes. He was out drinking with a couple of mates and came back to their lodgings with some supplies. An argument started and it ended up in physical fisticuffs and violence. Our man got treated pretty softly by the courts because it seemed he wasn't the instigator. But then he moved into another place with his partner, a caring lady about his age. Eventually, during a drinking episode an argument happened, as happens in most relationships and he beat his partner. This time there was no leniency.  Why did he do it? He is a nice guy, most often helpful and kind. He was getting his life back together and had support? When his inhibitions were low with alcohol, his default reaction to differences of opinion was toward violence.
I am always astounded by the level of violence and politicians, police, judges and social workers wring their hands wondering what can be done? New Zealand used to have safe streets. It still is a friendly place, but it seems to have lost the innocence it once had. What has gone wrong?

I thought of one thing the other night. My wife and I had a rare night when both of us could relax on a Saturday night watching TV to enjoy some entertainment. Now we have about 6 main channels we can watch, without going to religious preachers, sports or ethnic shows. We flicked through the channels and on every channel there was a film or show in which violence was a major theme! I got to thinking how common this theme is, even in children's cartoons, super heroes and other seemingly "wholesome" entertainment. I thought too of the various video games advertised or that I can access on my computer if I so desired. Almost all are violent ones where I shoot, or beat up the opposition. Is this a contributing factor to our violent society?

When the New Zealand cricket team was doing really badly a few years ago, people were looking for answers. The batsmen seemed to be losing their wickets by poor shot selection. They made unwise decisions about the balls they would attempt to hit and consequently gave away their wicket cheaply. One elder statesman of New Zealand cricket, who was a superb batsman in his time, had some good advice.  "When the batsmen are practicing in the nets," he said, "they need to practice leaving the ball." He went on to say that if in practice you try to hit every ball bowled, that will be your automatic reaction, your default option when you are playing the game.  "What you practice in your practice sessions will be how you play the game." "In the split second you have to respond when the ball is bowled at you, you will do what you have practiced. If it has been hitting every ball (as many do in the nets) that is what you will do. To have long disciplined innings, you need to practice leaving the ball." I got to thinking. If we spend hours in front of our TV's, video games and computers watching or playing with violence, what is likely to be our default option when relationships get stretched? I wonder whether our mind numbing, mind training menu of violent TV conditions us to respond with violence when the going gets tough? Maybe what we feed our minds on, comes out in our actions? I believe the quantity of violence based TV shows we dumbly sit in front of to be entertained, contributes to the rising rates of violence in our community. 

That is my rant for tonight.

The apostle Paul wrote: "Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise think about (stew on, cogitate on...) these things." Master batsman Glen Tuner said, "What you practice will be your default response."  - I say, feed your minds with the positive, constructive and compassionate perspectives. Do not feed them on violence.

Another contributing factor we don't want to talk about is the way we abuse alcohol. But that will be for another rant. 

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Wedding Anniversary.

Today is our 49th Wedding anniversary. I shared that on Facebook and one of my nephews shared some photos that his dad (my wife's brother) took on the day of the wedding.
It is funny, the photos are taken with us standing in the street doorway of the St Andrew Street Church of Christ, Dunedin. I was still a senior plumbing apprentice, working out the hours you had to do before you were made a full certificated plumber. I had done all my exams. On that day, absolutely nobody would have anticipated that later I would have served a 27 year term as minister of that Church! My wife still says when I am grumpy about ministry sometimes, "I married a plumber!" Life takes many strange turns.
Our niece (flower girl) my youngest brother, my mother in law, me and my bride, my father in law and my mum.

The happy couple with Jean's parents, siblings, partners and children.

Saturday, April 28, 2018

Repulsed by "Christianity"?

Being a Workplace Support Chaplain I have to attend a meeting from time to time with other chaplains. I am used to being the most "progressive" there - some would say perhaps "spiritually dead liberal". But there was a farewell for a retiring chaplain who I respected, so I felt I had to attend. But I felt repulsed. There was a chaplain there who was sure of his superior spiritual awareness. He talked about various people with an evil spirit about them. He was anti-gay in some of his comments. He had been on an evangelical visit to India, and all Hindus were evil, with some master plan to oust Christianity from India. In fact he despised all other religions other than Christianity. He said words to the effect that the workplaces we go into were places of evil, we had to protect ourselves against that evil. (On the other hand I often say that I don't take God in there, but meet him there among my people.) He seemed to see evil forces everywhere - behind the media, the "system", and even behind the hierarchy of the Presbyterian Church for encouraging him to get some theological training. ("I disagree with the training they dish out anyway. Would the teachers even be truly 'Christian'?" he said. )  He seemed to be an angry man, even when he reported on some positive "wins" -souls saved- over the evil one. I was repulsed. This seemed so much of a distortion of the way of Jesus. It was a weird, superstitious world view.  I visit a brewery, ambulance stations and fire stations. The language in these places can sometimes be pretty off-colour. Sometimes the topics too can be a bit lewd, or what Donald Trump might call "Locker Room talk". (though never, I think, as base as his recorded conversation piece.) But I feel more at home in those places than I felt at this meeting of religious people? This horrible arrogant "who is in and who is out", "who is evil" superstitious distortion of the way of Jesus really upset me. For me it was blasphemy, a disgusting representation of a way of life I hold dear.

I did not know how to deal with it. Should I challenge him? No, I decided it would be a waste of time and destructive of the relationships at the meeting. I ended up trying to change the subject. I have sought over the years to hear him and learn from his journey, but we are so different. There is very little common ground. I recall a man reporting after being at a Presbyterian General Assembly where "the gay clergy thing" was discussed. In his report he commented, "I sometimes thought there were two different faiths being expressed!" I have the same experience. I continue to lead within Church circles. I do so because the Church is where the story of Christ is kept alive. I struggle with some aspects of this journey, but feel that I am making some sort of positive contribution.

 I wonder though, whether Christianity might have a deep split some time soon? Progressive Christians are becoming more organised, establishing connections and presenting confidently and openly a great alternative to the "old style" gospel. Evangelicals, mean time, in the face of uncertainty, seem to be rushing back to a fundamentalism and superstition that gives people some certainty in unsure times. We Christians have basic differences on how we handle scripture, and I wonder when there could be a new and deep split! I hope not, but I long to be able to avoid the feeling of repulsion I got from my "christian colleague's" comments the other day.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

A well deserved recognition

Jean in her FED's uniform and new medal.

The Medal with Queen Victoria on it.

The program we had down at the Church on Sunday. Jean initiated, and mostly Jean's work.

Jean with oldest granddaughter, Edith.
Us as a family many years ago - the youngest is now 38.
From left to right- Our oldest child Angela. Pania our foster daughter, and Jean. Angela has many of Jean's traits. 

My wife is Jean. She is a "FED" for St John Ambulance. FED stands for Friend of the Emergency Department. She dons a St John uniform and fronts up at the Dunedin Hospital Emergency Department. There she does supportive chores on a voluntary basis, doing a four hour shift. FEDs will get cups of tea, or sandwiches or soup for patients. Care for the family or friends who are with the patients. Sometimes fluff pillows for patients or chat with them in a supportive way. She has on occasion sat with an elderly dying patient when there are no relatives or friends around. She will collect laundry, find pillows, or move beds or make beds. It is support work in the Emergency Department for both patients and staff. Jean has been doing it for 12, nearly 13 years. She was part of the original team who started the venture at Dunedin Hospital through the Order of St John. For quite a time she did two afternoons a week, and has often been used to train new volunteers. These days they have enough in the team for her to do just one afternoon a week - Thursdays. (that is when I cook the meal) On the 16th March we were invited to the annual St John Awards ceremony. There many people receive awards. I normally go as chaplain but Jean has received a service pin every three years. We went along expecting her, along with others, to receive just a 12 year pin, but when they reached the appropriate part of the program, they said it was to be a 12 year service medal. Apparently you get a medal after 12 years. The medal, they said, was a Queens medal, which is akin to a military medal, and can be worn on occasions when military medals are being worn. So they read out a citation describing her service, and the fact that she had trained others, and she was presented with her medal. I was a proud husband. Recently when she took me into the Emergency Department and doctors and nurses were dealing with me, I saw how they related to her in such a positive way. The FED's in some ways are the bottom of the heap in a very busy department - doctors, nurses, nurse aids then FED's. But Jean seemed to be at home there.

A story: When we were first married we bought a house on a steep street, the steepest street in the world in fact. It had a basement cellar and one Saturday I was trying to light a white petrol blow torch. There was a flash, and white petrol on the concrete floor was burning, and to my horror there was a flame on the top of the tin of white petrol. I made a few panicked attempts to extinguish the fire, but soon thought, "It can't be done! There will be an explosion soon!" I yelled at Jean to get out of the house. She saw my predicament, came down to the cellar. No fire was going to ruin her house! In she went determined to put the fire out. Well that prompted me to man up and have a second, more reasoned attempt, which was successful. That has been the story of our life.  I have often been seen to be the one doing things, but without her, I would not have the impetus and often the courage to do the things we've done.

We have been married nearly 49 years, (we were dating three years before that) so I have seen her incredible ability for work. She was mother to our five children, (two natural born, two adopted and one fostered daughter with severe handicaps.)  She has been a caring nonstop loving mother to all our children, advocate and always keen to communicate and support. I recall meetings with teachers (she once was a teacher) she would sometimes question the poor teacher mercilessly, if she thought her child was getting a bad deal. She has had to advocate, and still advocates endlessly for our foster daughter who suffers from Retts Syndrome.  She often says "I married a plumber!" When I decided to turn my back on plumbing and train for 5 years for Church ministry, she helped finance it and went with me to Australia. Since then she has worked hard supporting me in whatever Church we have been ministering. - There have been stacks of tasks involved in that. In our first Church  every Sunday afternoon we had the Youth group for tea. She has taken a major role in overseeing the catering for 25 Community Christmas Dinners in our last Church. She has been Sunday School teacher, elder, children's worker, caterer, an industrial chaplain, organiser of all sorts of programs (carrying major part of the hard graft of anything she organises) and often, so often talked me around to continue on, in my many dark hours. In retirement this continues. In the local little Presbyterian Church she is on the Parish Council with me, she helps out at a children's music and movement, she helps run our "Rumpus Room" every second Friday night where young people and parents from the community come to spend time. She runs a Tuesday afternoon afternoon tea where parents and kids from the school next door call in to the Church. She is now 70 years old, riddled with arthritus and she still would leave many much younger people for dead in the way she works. I have seen her stick at digging a patch of ground in the vege garden, and just keep on going until it is done. She has herded goats, milked goats, and clipped their hooves. She has helped me butcher hens, sheep and goats, and cut up the meat. She helped out on Habitat for Humanity houses, planned and organised and collected on Night Shelter street appeals. She travelled around the country with me for two years, living in a caravan with four children, having to teach the children on the journey. I am relatively shy, so when the awkward phone call has to be made, or some shop keeper needs challenged, she is the one to do it. When we ran a drop in centre, I have seen her face off with an angry man brandishing a pool stick, and have him back down as she treated him like a disappointed mum. She was better to interrupt any potential fight. She has always been a listening ear for people. On Church councils, she will ask the challenging question, and challenge the notion that "that's the way we always do it" or the "we can't do it" response. She can ask "why" and keep asking it if necessary. Nothing seems to phase her, I have little panic attacks and scream, "I can't do it!" but she just "plods on" working her way through any challenge. AND she has put up with me!

All that to say that as she received her twelve year medal, my mind went back through all the 52 years that we have been an item, and all the efforts she should receive a medal for. She simply is the hardest, most devoted and consistent worker I have ever encountered. I am a proud husband. 

Thursday, March 15, 2018

"Ouch...... Bloody leg!"

The words of the title of this post (and sometimes worse expletives) have been heard around our house quite a lot over the last few weeks. I was working around our place doing some carpentry and gardening on Saturday 17th February. I had a tired back, I knew I had been working hard. As I sat on the hard pews in church the next morning, my thoughts wandered from the sermon and I realised I had a sore back, getting more painful by the minute. I had some work to finish in the afternoon but at the end of the day, I went and dangled myself from the rafters in the garage. Then I went for a walk. These two things have always worked whenever I have had a sore back before. But they didn't this time, the pain continued. On the Tuesday night I thought it was easing, but on Wednesday morning I had some real pain in my hamstring and down my left leg. My wife said, "Go to a physiotherapist."  So, ever obedient, off I went. It seemed a little better after she pulled and prodded me, but after driving home all hell broke loose, and next day I ended up in the Emergency Department at the hospital. They checked me out, declared that I had a pinched nerve and it would come right, and gave me powerful painkillers. Since then it continues. Now my foot is numb and I cannot walk far. I had a retired firefighter friend phone me asking me if I wanted to go on a tramp. I would love to have done the tramp he was doing, but there is no way I could do it. I've had further pain pills from my doctor, my physio has poked and proded, and I've been for two swims in the hot physio pool, and enjoyed them, but still little relief. I am getting to feel that this could be a permanent reality for me. I am grumpy, walking was my therapy. Working around home in the vege garden etc. is essential. Pain has a way of dragging you down, especially at night when you are trying to sleep. So I am battling on, but inside a bit scared about what this all means for my future abilities.
But.... Yesterday I drove into town to visit my chaplaincies. I drove past the home of a retired firefighter. He is the one who called me "JC's helper". (See the paragraph headed "The Blog's title") He was mowing his lawn, and looked to be struggling. Since he retired as a fit fire fighter just a few years ago he has had a rough time. His wife's health had been bad for a long time, and I had bumped into them from time to time, at blood clinics and hospital, with her in a wheelchair and him guiding it. They were always cheerful. Then he had a diagnosis of Parkinson's disease and his tremors were quite pronounced. Shortly after that his wife died in front of him at home. As I drove past yesterday, grumpy about my predicament, here he was, a widower, struggling to push his lawn mower, and looking down the barrel of an inevitable decline in his abilities. I thought, "At least I don't have his circumstances to cope with!" I then promised myself to face my setbacks more positively. 

The other day too I talked to a young firefighter whose six year old son has been battling cancer receiving months of tough treatment. He too was being positive. "It'll be a blip on our journey. It has brought us all closer together as a family. We're doing OK." Bravery in the face of challenging uncertain circumstances.

With this wider picture in mind, I have nothing significant to growl about. (I have just had a phone call from the hospital. They want to do an MRI scan on my back this afternoon. It will be good to know exactly what is happening with my spine.) "Carry on David, be hopeful and positive."