Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Death and Life.

Catching up with special friends.  
The CORE Education Community Service day team.
The Mountain top. 
The beautiful Otago Harbour from the top. 
A "Koru" - the young fern frond unwinding.
Josie on the left is a beautiful Sister of Mercy. We have known each other for nearly 30 years.
The Night Shelter Christmas tepee with the special star from a grateful client on top.
Last Wednesday evening we were invited to a friend's place for a surprise birthday party for a mutual friend. They are all people from our last Church. We have generally not mixed with people from the Church out of respect for their current minister, but we do seem to make contact with this group of people every few months. It was a delightful evening, and time seemed to fly as conversation ranged over a number of subjects and we warmly caught up on each other's journey. While there we "skyped" with the host's brother in London, and her mother in India. The ipad got passed around the table as we each said "hello". Friendships are one of the special gifts of life, and these days can span the globe.
Life 2.
There is an organisation called CORE Education in NZ who do "stuff" related to the professional development of teachers. I have a friend who works in the Dunedin team, and last year they had a "Community Work Day" coming to the Night Shelter and to do gardening and building. I got a message early last week that they wanted to come again and tend the garden that they planted last time. They came for half a day after spending the first half assisting another social work agency. Together we hit the gardens and paths of the night shelter like a tornado, weeding, sorting and installing new edging. It is so good and life-giving having such support expressed. They shortened my Night Shelter "to do" list considerably.
Life 3. 
As I began this week I knew it was going to be a busy one, with a workshop to run, an Annual meeting to prepare for and run, and a Church service, along with chaplaincy responsibilities. I was working away on Monday, reading, stewing and preparing, then on a whim decided to take a walk up "my" Mount Cargill. I "work" while walking, I argued, so away I went and puffed my way to the mountain top. It is so life-giving for me getting out in the bush, seeing expansive scenery and yet enjoying the little plant life along the way. I had not done it enough lately, and vowed to do it more often.
On Tuesday morning I was working away in my study for most of the morning, then began to get ready to go to town to do my chaplaincies. My phone rang and it was a policeman I know. He told me that an acquaintance of mine needed somebody to talk with. The man came on the phone and blurted out, "Its my niece, she's killed herself!" and dissolved into tears. I asked where he was and said I would be there in fifteen minutes. I have been drawn into this family's grief. A 19 year old mother of a 3 year old girl, accidentally overdosed on alcohol and pain killers. It is extremely sad. I lead the funeral in a few days time. I was talking to the funeral director who I know well, and said, "Why me? I am meant to be retired?" She grinned and replied, "Because people like being around you and having you around at times like this." I find such involvement stressful, but I also feel deeply the pain of the situation and ache for the people involved.
Death and life together.
That afternoon I went to the hospital to meet members of the family to support them as they visited their loved one in the "city morgue". As I walked through the foyer/reception area of the hospital I saw one of my fire fighters and his wife, obviously going home with their tiny baby. The baby had been born at 24 weeks and I had followed their journey on facebook and whenever I could catch up with the young dad at the fire station. It had been a tough journey as the baby, confined to a special unit in the hospital, went through all sorts of ups and downs, many times failing to breath. Now I rushed up to the couple and celebrated the fact that they could take their child home. The worst (hopefully) had past, and I was simply delighted as I looked at this little human venturing out into the big world of life. Then the irony hit me. I walked down a corridor from this happy encounter to meet the grieving family.  With some family members sobbing deeply, my policeman friend led us down to the room where this nineteen year old lay, cold and very dead. Life and death together in just a few minutes! We have a sad binge drinking problem among young people in New Zealand. 
I wrote the chairman's report for the 2016 Annual meeting of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. As I listed off the things we had done for the year I felt tired. It had been a busy journey restructuring and further improving the work of the Dunedin Night Shelter. I would love to be able to hand over the responsibility. I have been involved on the committee from the very beginning in 2003, and as I wrote the report, then the next night chaired our meeting, I felt the weariness of that long journey. 
The Anglican Cathedral in town had invited us, along with other agencies, to set up a Christmas "tree" depicting our work in some way. So the day after our AGM my wife and I were there with a friend from the Trust setting up our display. We were approached by a very nervous and very pregnant young woman and her husband. She said something like; "I wanted you to know that many years ago I used your service. I stayed at the shelter. " She hesitated, then said, "I would not be here today if it wasn't for you and what you do. Life turned out OK. This is my husband." she said turning and smiling at a very proud and loving husband. She led us to believe that we had saved her life, and she was so genuine in her appreciation. 
I was too dumbfounded to speak. She gave my wife Jean the star which is on the top of our tepee. That experience is about as good as it could ever get!  Nothing could top that moment. I simply floated out of the Cathedral feeling like it was all worth it after all!

Monday, November 14, 2016

Emotional journey.

A special bird sanctuary area on Waiheke Island. 
Bush scene looking toward the mainland.
Sub-tropical bush walking.

Looking at the main township and its beach on Waiheke. 
My wife measures up grandson Stanley for some new clothes.
I have found myself churned up a few times recently. No biggy but I just share with you some things...

  • We paid a visit to my son and family on Waiheke Island, Auckland. (the north of New Zealand) I enjoy visiting the island, and it was great to catch up with Phil, Natasha and grandchildren, Edith and Stanley. Phil had me walking in the bush, kayaking and checking out the mechanics of a van he recently purchased. They have sold their house, and plan to move to Wellington. Sadly it will mean no more visits to paradise, and probably the house will get pulled down for property development. I am sad about this because Phil and I did quite a bit of DIY stuff on it. But the bright side is, they should be well off financially and they will be closer to us.
  • I have been astounded by the elections in the USA. A guy with such terrible attitudes, obvious personality problems and an addiction to telling lies will now lead this powerful country. It is beyond belief! But as I look at the sorts of values presented, it seems to me he portrays the very values communicated in TV shows, (especially rubbish reality shows), advertisements and in magazines. If enough people's minds uncritically absorb such crap this is what happens. God help us! I am glad I live in NZ, but the same tribalism and dumbing down of values and thinking is happening here. Tell Bernie to emigrate! He would enjoy New Zealand, and we could do with his thinking.
  • My brother from Australia visited and while in our city he celebrated his 70th birthday. My sister added to his birthday celebration by making it a family reunion, and cousins and friends from both my parents' sides of the family joined us, along with children and grandchildren. A powerpoint showed old photos that brought many memories. We smiled and laughed about numerous childhood events. There were sad/bad memories too, which I kept to myself.  At such times the journey of life floats to the front of your consciousness and you have a mixture of emotions.
  • A couple of weeks ago I led a Church Parade for the local St John Ambulance. The Order of St John was a Christian based organisation, so even these days it has an annual church parade. (and a chaplain to lead it.) Most in the organisation would not darken the doors of a church, so leading a Church parade is an interesting exercise. Last year instead of joining one of the inner-city churches, we ran it on our own, using a funeral chapel as a venue. This year they were keen to do the same. I love the challenge of putting together a service for basically a secular congregation, that to their surprise, is not boring and somehow links them to the sacred in life. Feedback suggests we succeeded, but the exercise was exhausting, physically and emotionally.
  • Last night at about 2:30 a.m. I got up and waddled down the hall toward the toilet. I suddenly became aware of the telephone ringing.  With bleary eyes and brain I answered it, expecting it to be some problem at the Night Shelter.  It was my son from Christchurch. "Hi Dad, just wanted to let you know we have evacuated and are at Beckenham." "Wh..What?" "Oh didn't you know... there has been a big earthquake and there is a tsunami warning for the whole East Coast!" He lives a few blocks from the beach in Christchurch. We turned on the radio and learned of the massive, (7.5) complicated earthquake which has impacted people from Christchurch through to Wellington area. There has been a lot of damage to roads, houses and infrastructure in mainly rural areas, but it has cut supply routes and railway lines. Christchurch damage was minimal, so my son's house was fine. No big tsunami eventuated and they are back home. The pictures coming in astound you. Railway lines were picked up and thrown around like they were a bit of string. Roads are completely buried by hillsides falling on top of them, and heaps of other devastation. There have been "only" two deaths. But the emotional drain on people whose homes have been wrecked, and they have to "stoop and build'em up with worn out tools," (Rudyard Kipling's "If") is incredible. I have found myself reliving emotions I felt when I visited Christchurch after the big quake there five years ago. I feel the pain of these people, and would love to be useful. We are about six hours drive from the epicentre. It did rock Dunedin houses, but we had slept through it.
So the last few weeks have been a roller coaster of emotions. I am very busy with my involvement in ministry activity in the local church, chaplaincy and night shelter. People ask "are you enjoying retirement? What are you doing?" I say "Yes - but it hardly feels like retirement." It is never boring!

Monday, October 31, 2016

An Imposter?

Facebook comment;
During the last week of August a retired firefighter delivered a donation of firewood to my house. I was blown away with gratitude. I blogged about it (August 31) but I also put it on Facebook. One of my facebook friends, is a clinical psychologist, workshop presenter and author. He did work for the local fire service and I met him initially in that capacity.  He commented on facebook with... 

You reap what you sow Dave! Conversely, the Grateful Dead once sung: "If you plant ice, you're gonna harvest rain". Not that I need to tell you that!!

Then my friend went on holiday and I followed his adventures on his facebook page. When he came back from holiday to my surprise he went and commented on the post again....

Six weeks later and I come back to this post, which has stayed with me since it was posted. When one radiates such generosity in life as you do Dave, then it somehow comes back in mysterious ways. Living a life based on unconditional giving is such a position to hold. All your hard work for the Fire Service, the Church, the Night Shelter and countless other worthy causes that you support, and the compassionate friendship that you offer others, builds engagement. Its the very stuff of living life well. Such a simple joy...

My reaction... I responded saying that this sounded too saintly for me..."in reality I just muddle along doing my bit."  To which he pointed out that he didn't say I was a saint, just a generous man... or something like that. I had two internal reactions. First his description of what my life was based on (unconditional giving) is in idealistic theory correct. This is the theological "ideal" I aim for. It is, to me, an essential part of being a follower of Jesus. But.... I have never talked theology with him? We have talked critical incident stress management of fire fighters. We have shared briefly running stories. I conducted his son's funeral. when he tragically died as a 21 year old. But we have never talked about my ideals in life.  So at one level, I was thrilled that somehow he had been able to see the theoretical ideals I live for in the way that I live. I was pleased about that.
But.... My reply on facebook holds true... the glowing comments about me, "can't be me, he must be mistaken?" "He does not really know me." You see I know the mixed motives and the inner "sins" and the many, many times I fall far far short of the ideals.  So my reaction is, he does not really know me and if he did, he would not say these things, and would be horribly disappointed. 

It happened again this weekend. I went down to the Church where there was a bit of a market, selling baking, displaying arts and crafts. I ended up sitting behind the baking table with a woman who has just taken over the treasurers job, thus saving the Church over $2000 a year. One of the ministers commended her on her willingness, and she pointed to me saying, "He guilted me into it!" After the minister had gone, I said that I hoped anything I had said in sermons had not made her feel guilty. "No" she responded, "I just saw how much you were prepared to put into the welfare and purpose of the Church, and that inspired me to "get off my bum". Again, I thought, "is that me she is talking about?" I led a St John Ambulance Church Parade on Sunday. We had the Salvation Army Band helping us with the music, and after the service one of the band members I had never met before came up and said, "You really are a great speaker aren't you?" "I have had plenty of practice, I guess I ought to be able to do it by now." I replied. But he went on about it. I had very positive responses from various people, and somebody put on facebook that "a great man was leading the service."  But .... in anguish, I still repeatedly asked my ever patient wife several times throughout the afternoon and into Sunday evening, "Was it alright this morning? Did it come across OK? Did I make a fool of myself?" I cannot accept accolades, I know the real me!

Impostor syndrome... I have a friend that I have run with (these days, "walk with") most Sunday afternoons for at least the last twelve years. We often debrief our week and talk over stuff during our exercise hour.  She is very successful in the field of education, working for a not for profit group who have responsibility for research, teachers professional development and other educational contracts. She has also succeeded academically, continuing to progress through various university courses with high marks. Many years ago we discovered this common feeling. We have both made the comment about ourselves that goes something like this; "One day people are going to discover that I am not all that I claim to be. One day I am going to be exposed as a fraud who knows nothing, and is just bluffing my way through my work and life." Over the years we have laughed often that both of us, again and again have admitted to this feeling. It is such an intriguing phenomenon. I do know that as a follower of Jesus I fall far below the ideals he sets before me. That is taken as read because the ideals of love are high. But this experience of, "You must be talking about a different guy?" whenever I receive any adulation, is such a consistent feeling and one I have never grown out of. My friend discovered a book called "The Impostor Syndrome" and she said she was going to read it and report on it to me. We'll wait and see. 

Wikipedia says... "Impostor syndrome (also known as impostor phenomenon or fraud syndrome) is a term coined in 1978 by clinical psychologists Dr. Pauline R. Clance and Suzanne A. Imes referring to high-achieving individuals marked by an inability to internalize their accomplishments and a persistent fear of being exposed as a "fraud".[1] Despite external evidence of their competence, those exhibiting the syndrome remain convinced that they are frauds and do not deserve the success they have achieved. Proof of success is dismissed as luck, timing, or as a result of deceiving others into thinking they are more intelligent and competent than they believe themselves to be. Some studies suggest that impostor syndrome is particularly common among high-achieving women."
Its comforting to know it has a name and that others experience it too... though I can hardly be described as a "high achiever"!

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Two Photos...

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

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Life in the fast lane...

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

Monday, September 19, 2016

The Day's Demand.

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

The Day's Demand

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

Josiah Gilbert Holland, 1819-1881

May there indeed be such people willing to step up.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Sound off.. Good and bad.

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

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