Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Minister's adventure...

This afternoon I went walking up my loved mountain (Mt Cargill, Dunedin) stewing about ministry and where my life is taking me. Maybe, you see, it is time I left church ministry behind? This led me to thinking about past adventures. I will tell you about one. Years ago I had a part time ministry in a smallish town named Levin. We lived in another much smaller country settlement and so each Sunday we would travel quite some distance to church arriving around an hour before the service. In this ministry we were giving support to a separated solo mum we'll name Mary. I was also heavily involved in helping budget for her "on-again-off-again" boyfriend "Harry". He had done heaps of shady deals, and we were negotiating our way out of them with the people he owed money to. He had a bad habit of getting violent, with stab wounds to show for it, and sometimes it was with Mary. He lived next door to her and had fathered her two week old baby. We arrived at church this one morning to find Mary on the phone to the church office. She burst forth with an almost hysterical explanation then handed her phone to a policeman. It seemed Harry had gone over there, got mad, started throwing things around her house, then picked up his baby son, went next door and locked himself in, threatening to harm the child. The police had arrived, but were afraid to do anything, in case Harry harmed baby. Mary had told them that Harry would listen to me. Me!? He never really took much notice of me when he was rational, what would an angry Harry do?

I told the people at the church to rearrange the service so that the sermon came last and I would do the best I could to get back. I remember driving around in the old ambulance we drove at the time, with butterflies in my stomach, taking off my jacket and tie, so as not to intimidate Harry by looking too official. Several police cars were there and the policemen were lined up on the footpath. They talked very abruptly to me, probably wondering what sort of minister I was driving an old ambulance. They seemed happy to pass the buck and just expected me to go in and see if Harry would negotiate! They would be there on the footpath, if something went wrong. "Why me?" I was asking. What if I stuff up and he hurts baby? I approached the locked front door, and gingerly knocked. "Who is it?" Harry yelled, "Go away!" "It's m-m-me", I said, "D-D-Dave Brown." I looked through the lounge window which seemed to be where the voice was coming from, and saw Harry. This big tough, supposedly mean, violent, Maori man, was sitting on the couch with his baby in his arms, rocking backward and forward, with tears rolling down his face. I tapped on the window and asked in as calm a voice as I could muster, "Can I come in Harry? Will you unlock the door for me?" He rose, came to the door, unlocked it and returned to the couch. I sat next to him, trying to look relaxed, and we talked. Eventually he allowed me to call up Mary, and ask her to come next door to get her baby. After many assurances that Harry would not hurt her, she came. We talked and I agreed to meet with them that night and talk over issues of access etc. He gently handed baby back to mum. I drove back to the church, put tie and jacket back on, and calmly walked up to the platform in time to take the sermon for the day, as if it was just a mere part of a ministers life. Later in the afternoon I suddenly felt tired, emotionally exhausted, and thought, "Did I really do that?"

I recall a personnel manager in a later job interview once telling me, "As a minister you would have led a fairly shelter life." ... Yeah right?!

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Energising inner snacks...

It's another morning and I hit it running. There is so much I need and want to do before Sunday! It's like that for me, particularly at this time of the year. I am planning Christmas Day; there's an ecumenical advent event at our church early Sunday morning; there's Habitat for Humanity work and plans to deal with; some workplace support clients I need to meet with; my daughter is keen to move back into her house; there's end of year events to attend; and this morning I get an email from Bangkok, - with the rioting there the Night Shelter Trust Chairman is stuck and may not get back for our AGM... I may have to chair it!!? I said to my wife this morning that it seems like I have not had a real day off for ages. But... there are lots of energising experiences.

A man who with his wife volunteered at our Christmas Day dinner last year rang up and said how much he appreciated it and offered again this year, offering also to arrange for some funding through his law firm.

I attended a school end of year concert last night. A friend's children were participating. It was a strange feeling being proud for her about her kids, but also I saw how teachers and kids cared for each other and felt that its not a bad world after all.

I finished my rounds at the brewery and paused for a moment outside in my car. I thought how special it was. I talked to a number of men about things in their lives... what a privilege? A man talked about his experience of grief at losing his dad. An engineer with joy showed me how he was overcoming problems with the keg plant and his eyes shone with pride at his inventiveness and skill. I came away buzzing at being allowed to be part of these guys' world.

In the midst of the rushing, stressing and busyness there are moments like these, moments of grace that nourish the soul if I have the eyes and heart to see them. As I start another day that won't end for another fourteen hours, I am thankful for these "energising snacks" along the way. Have a good day!

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Dreaming about my ideal church...

I went to the St John Ambulance Area AGM tonight. I was there really in two capacities. I am Workplace Support chaplain to St John and my wife is a volunteer with them as a Friend of the Emergency Department. They had an award ceremony after the AGM and Jean and 34 other people received badges or medals for service rendered. What struck me was the breadth of the organisation and its ethos. It is an organisation there to serve the community. It has a whole lot of branches to it. There are the Ambulance services, going out to medical and accident emergencies. There is a transport role for ambulance. There are the "Community Events" volunteers who turn up at sports events and the like and provide First aid. There is the education area a group providing First Aid training for workplaces and community groups. There is the alarms for elderly people. There are the Hospitalers, mostly older women who do things to raise funds for a hospital in Jerusalem, for the organisation and for community groups...such as the Night Shelter Trust. And there is the youth and child training areas. ... and others. All practicing the motto in their service... "First to Care."

As I sat there I thought that would be the structure of my "Ideal Church". First it would not be worship centred, as if worship were its main function. It would be service centred, seeing itself as there to be servants to the community. People joining it would see themselves first and foremost as servants,(Not Church attenders or worshippers) in the community like their master. And it would have various branches of service and outreach into the community. Whatever worship we had would be seen as a springboard for action in the service functions of the community. Francis of Assisi said something like this; "Preach the gospel in season and out of season. If necessary, if you have to...use words." The church opts out of relevant service by having verbal diarrhea. It has reverted to words, doctrine and dogma because they are easier than truly being like Jesus.
(Photo: St. John Headquarters, Dunedin)

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Stupid cat!

We have a workshop/junk room/ex-garage at our house. There is a hole in the door so that our cat can get in and out of it and she has taken to sleeping out there on an old chair. I went out there this morning and as I opened the door she was wanting to come out through the hole. I slowly opened the door thinking that she would get the hint and wait till I had it fully open and walk through the open door. But no... the stupid cat kept trying to get out the cat hole, which of course was a moving hole as the door opened and was slowly squashing her against the furniture on the other side. She eventually took some backward steps and waited till the door was fully opened.

I have been reading some opinions by bigoted Christians. I am always encountering people who resist change. I experience people who argue over matters in families, workplaces and churches. I could not help thinking that we are often like our cat. There is a three foot wide door opening, but the only hole we can see to go through is the narrow 5 inch cat door we've always gone through. We are sometimes so hooked on tradition or our way of doing things that we cant see free flowing alternatives that are open to us.

Just an early morning thought... gotta tell someone, may as well be you... you poor people.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Christmas Day dinner in Dunedin

I have mentioned in passing our Christmas Day dinner at the church here. Let me tell you about it.
20 years ago, about two weeks before Christmas a local radio station wandered the town interviewing people about Christmas. One of our youth group members heard the interviews and came to me. He was astounded that for so many people Christmas was a lousy and lonely time. He asked me if we could do something about it. So we letterbox dropped all the pensioner cottages with an invitation saying simply that some of us are having our Christmas down at the church. If they would like company on Christmas day, give us a ring and join us. We were aware that the Salvation Army provided Christmas Dinner for needy people, we were targeting ours for lonely people. We set up a system where we had people at tables of 6 - 8 people with a host to care for the people at each table, just as you would in your own home. We wanted to communicate that this is not a bunch of people giving a Christmas dinner for unfortunates... but a bunch of people celebrating Christmas and you can join them. That first Christmas we had 37 guests, I think about 50 of us altogether. These days we have levelled off with about 230-240 people. The Salvation Army now refer people too us.

One Christmas I jokingly suggested to a bunch of firefighters that they should come help, and by the next week they had it all organised. Since about 1996 Dunedin Firefighters have been involved helping serve up. There have been lots of fun and funny stories over the years, which I won't bore you with.

We offer people transport to and from the meal. Where as it used to be a bunch of church people doing it, now we are the facilitators for a community Christmas dinner. We have volunteers from the community booking in early to be allowed to help out. Many of the volunteers are there because they too would be lonely or want extra company on Christmas day.

It is hard to believe that my wife and I have been leading this venture for 20 years this year! Our friends David and Anne Coulter put in heaps of energy for most of those years, helping to lead the venture. Now days generally Jean and I and our daughter Angela and her husband David do the background organising of it.

We still stick to the original philosophy. "We are there celebrating Christmas, come join us." We still have hosts at each table eating their meal with their guests and joining in conversation. It is funny, some people who ring to volunteer are shocked. "I don't want to eat with them! I am happy to serve them dinner!" We sometimes turn volunteers away saying... "This is the way we do it, company and respect are an important part of what we offer. We're sorry if you can't see yourself fitting into that."

I have heaps to do this week if it is going to get off the ground. It is full on in the lead up to Christmas and we collapse at about 3:30p.m. on Christmas Day and enjoy our Christmas as a family, still buzzing about the people we have been privileged to share with. It will be the same this year. Wish us luck.

Oh dear... how embarrassing.

The post lady brought two interesting pieces of mail the other day.

The first was a book mysteriously posted to me which was entitled "Retirement guide book". My first thought was that someone obviously thought it was time I retired, so had sent me some incentive. I have since noticed it in other churches and discovered that somebody was sending them to churches. Phew!.... I am not old enough to retire!!!

The second bit of mail the same day was an invitation to attend an award evening. An elderly retired minister (Who happens to be my childhood minister) has nominated me for the Community Spirit category of the 2008 Dunedin Stars Award. My wife won this award in 2003. It is an award presented by a local community newspaper and they call for nominations from volunteers throughout the city. I will attend, they didn't offer me the option of withdrawing my name. I should attend so as to express my appreciation to the nominator, but I will be sitting there hoping that they do not present it to me. I do a lot of community stuff, but what is voluntary and what is part of my paid ministry? To me it is all part of the ministry lifestyle for which I get given a living allowance. The award should go to someone who does what they do absolutely for nothing. In replying to the invite, I think I will try to discourage any possible win!

I just had a day off. The weather was nice and warm, very humid. I first fixed my flat tire from last night. We went shopping for some Habitat for Humanity hardware this morning, had morning tea up town and collected a few Christmas dinner invitation things to do from the church office. I had a phone call from a workplace Support client which I had to deal with. In the afternoon, I collected a big steel gate post from the Habitat site and took it to a church elder who had the tools to cut it a bit off it for me. I stopped and had a cup of tea with him and his wife then returned the post to the site. I came home and gardened for a while, before going for a 5 k jog. I finish the day feeling like I have had a worthwhile day. I have not wasted it. There are sometimes days off that I look back on and feel sad. (Or work days for that matter) The day has passed and I have done nothing constructive! I feel empty and cheated of life somehow. I feel like I have been stupid and thrown something precious down the drain.

I guess that's my fear....I do not want to get to my deathbed or to a disabled state and look back and feel like I have wasted my living. I want to be able to arrive at the end and say, "Oh well it was good, but its over. At least I can go out knowing I did not waste it. I filled it with "x" number of years of satisfying, constructive and contributing living!" I think it would be shear hell to get to that moment and feel like I do when I have wasted a day! On the other hand, that sense of fulfilment from a life well lived will bring a deep sense of completion and peace. For me this fulfilling/satisfying feeling is its own reward, and I don't really need an award to keep me doing what I do. I hope they give it to someone more deserving who needs the encouragement and recognition. I'll keep you posted.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Change from the inside...

Related to "salvation" but something I have found important for me and my growth. How do we change our behaviour? Our behaviour sometimes is motivated by peer pressure, for good or bad.That is fairly shallow and unstable motivation for our actions. I was reminded recently of how we really change behaviours by the story of a man I know. This man, a likable, respectable professional, had been a once a week binge drinker but it was catching up on him and causing damage to his health. He had to stop drinking, but had been finding the change difficult. He was given a book which basically gave heaps of information about the effects of alcohol, and in the last chapter simply asked the question, "How do you feel about it now?" This man told how his basic view of alcohol had been drastically changed and he now no longer wanted to drink. It was not until his inner world view had been changed, that his outer behaviour could be changed.

Lately I have been too busy to exercise or run. (Except tonight I went for a bike ride... but got a flat tire! grrr!) I met a man the other day I had not seen for a while and he asked if I was still running. When I confessed my lack, he lectured me, saying that I should see running, not as a dispensable bonus in life, but a "non-negotiable" in life. It's true, how I rate it or view it changes whether I actually make the room in my life to get out there and pound the pavement.

Following Jesus, is allowing his ways to actually change my inner world view, so that I see people and life differently. Behaving respectfully, not swearing, not being promiscuous, looking like a good wee Christian etc. just because I hang around with church people, feels like keeping a whole lot of rules. I become a classic do-gooder, trying to gain approval. It is basically selfish! But allowing the way of Jesus to change how you see people, means that you are changed from the inside out. To your surprise, you can actually find yourself loving a little bit like he loves, feeling for and with people, you otherwise would not care about. Growth continues to happen. Salvation is allowing Jesus' way to change your inner world view, and constructive growth and actions follow. We "do" because that's what we want to do, not for anybody's approval. (God nor our peers) I am also convinced that when people are loved in an unconditional way, their inner world view about themselves and others changes gradually, and you discover positive outer changes in their behaviour... that's just something that I was reminded of recently and thought I would share. To all you who work on Mondays, I am having a day off! Well a day when I choose what work to do. Wish me luck.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008


I was "googling" for a picture this morning and came across a similar blog site from an Episcopalian vicar. She had some good stuff in there but I noticed her disclaimer. I thought I better add something like it to mine or I may get into more trouble with my denominational hierarchy. Not that it matters much at my age. One of the benefits of age is that somewhere along the way you lose the desire or need to please all the people all the time. It is quite freeing... but my ministry still hinders a complete freedom. This is probably a good thing but the cartoon above depicts how I often feel within Church ministry. I must admit that my current congregation allows freedom to reach beyond the church boundaries, which helps to keep me sane.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

The Jesus virus...

Just a thought or two more on "salvation". To me "Salvation" is being infected by the "Jesus Bug". It is allowing his ways to become our ways. Sometimes we religious people have developed an immunity to the bug. We will be involved in religious activity with fervour, but somehow immune to his giving, generous and free flowing lifestyle.

Another picture is allowing ourselves to dance to the Jesus music. I was watching a country music dvd of a concert. I love the music because they look like they are enjoying making music. (Watching choirs they look like they are at funeral and so much rock music looks angry!) The audience participation was interesting. There were people sitting tapping their toes to the music. Others were clapping in time to the music. Still others were dancing in the isles, full bodied clapping. Its like that with Jesus. Some are just tapping their toes, starting the "loving, giving journey". Others are getting more into it.... but all are to some extent, at different times opening themselves to be moved by his love as his way as and when they encounter it. I love seeing people even in little ways, "catching the beat" or "getting into the Jesus rhythm". We have a guy we call Ozzy who comes to our drop-in. He's a pain in the backside because he loves to tease people. But he is changing! He now dresses differently. He helps hand out the food and clean up. He helps us host the nights, in a weird sort of "Ozzy" way but he's slowly getting into the rhythm, catching the bug, and becoming more whole.

Dave Andrews says, "The essence of being a devotee of Jesus is to live in sympathy with God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God's heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe." A song that I love goes "Let the beauty of Jesus be seen in me.... let the love of the master be seen in me... etc. " I love seeing people changing in that direction, sometimes even catching the bug without being aware of it. I love being able to look back on my life and being able to say in surprise... "Hey? I'm different... I have grown as a person! What do you know?!" That's "Amazing Grace".

How many "salvations"?

One of the statistics I had to report to my national church was "how many 'salvations' there had been between July 1st last year and June 30 in my church?". My denomination in NZ these days has gone conservative and I am no longer in tune with it. What is meant by "Salvations"? I know what they mean... I think... how many came up to the front and "Confessed Christ" or something like that. But is that Biblical? Isn't it a limited view of what Jesus was all about?

I read once about a survey among the Bible Belt in America. (It was in an evangelical magazine) There were a whole lot of lifestyle questions, about values and perspectives and goals. The thing that the survey found was that there was very little difference between those who were "saved" and those who did not profess to be Christian. They were just as materialistic in their goals, they were just as racist, they were just as likely to have an affair, they were just as mean etc. etc. It seemed their religious "salvation" was not making much difference to their lifestyle. They were not being really changed on the inside.

When Jesus healed someone physically it is said "he made them whole." It is the same root word as the word "salvation". Salvation is the process of being made whole, and one reason I am a minister is that I believe that Jesus can put us on the road to wholeness and keep us traveling that road. I am both "saved" but also "being saved". For me salvation is a journey toward wholeness.. I am being shaped and moulded... I encounter new challenges and discover new things about life and the sacred, salvation is a journey and process. I know this because I can look back and see that I am being saved, healed and changed. Saved from myself. Saved from the pressures of the values in the world about me.

So "how many salvations"? I have seen changes in some of the people in the drop-in... salvation! I have seen changes in me... salvation! I have seen fire fighters become softer, more giving people... salvation! I have seen a family move into a house and become more settled... salvation! I have seen kids at our Ocean Grove cottage venture have to reason through their behaviour and become wiser in the to and fro of conversation... salvation! I have seen volunteers at our Christmas dinner come alive to the spirit of Christ and love the act of giving and sharing... salvation! and I could go on. Now I know my national body people would not agree with me... but I am sure God celebrates these "salvations"... even if they are small steps he has been able to lead people along in the journey of salvation.

So I objected to having to list off "How many salvations" there had been. Not just because there had been none... in their terms... but because I have moved beyond that concept of "Salvation". I think it belittles the mind, heart and movement of God! Often too I think it creates just a religious expression of the selfishness that Jesus came to save us from! It does not really change the self-focus, it just makes it religious. Salvation for me, is becoming more and more "joined" to God, to others, to creation. It is having an ever wider circle of concern, solidarity and compassion.

I did answer the question to how many salvations there were.... they could not disagree with my answer... My answer? .... "God only knows!"

Monday, November 17, 2008

The building inspector likes it!

You put up with my stresses about building inspectors... he came today and apart from a few minor adjustments, he is happy with the work and has signed off that stage. We dont need to see him again till its finished. Woo Hoo! :-)

Weekend work photos

On Saturday and Sunday, among other things, we installed an outside door in the old part of the house and built an entrance deck into the extensions. Here are some photos.

Administration... blah!

I am nervous! This afternoon we ran around the house extensions tidying up flashings, squeezing "gunk" in holes, replacing brackets and tidying up the building site. Tomorrow afternoon the building inspector comes! What will he find to pick holes in? Will he pass our work and let us move on to the next stage, or will he make us re-do stuff? Will there be hassles with the materials we use? I think it is all OK. I know it is waterproof. I know it is warm and secure and looks OK, but will the bureaucrats from the town hall give it the thumbs up?

Speaking of bureaucrats, I expressed disagreement with my national Church administration today. I am usually compliant and keep quiet. I thought we had a sort of unwritten agreement that if they left me alone I would leave them alone. But I got this officious sounding email wanting statistics. Well I disagree with the way they ask for them and what they ask for, so I had basically put it well down on my priority list. Today their patience ran out and I got this sort of threatening email. Well usually I keep quiet, but I expressed my disagreement. I await the reaction.

I guess we need the bureaucrats of this world? Administration, rules and regs have never been my thing. Sometimes I feel like we can't sneeze in NZ without getting a permit or a license to do it! Never mind, I promise to be nicer to people whose work is administration. Well at least I'll try. Wish us luck with the building inspector! I will let you know. Just now I am watching and listening to country music as I type... tomorrow I start another busy week.

Sunday, November 16, 2008


How dare they! .... My daughter and son-in-law said I was snoring! It is Sunday night. I worked all day yesterday on their house extensions. Last night I had to make up the time and work on Sunday morning preparation. This morning before church all hell broke loose in the office. The organist was sick and one of the readers was also ill. The photocopier kept jamming, then decided it was out of toner. People kept coming in asking questions and all the while I was doing the finishing touches to power points for the service. I calmly walked on to the platform at 10 a.m. and survived another adequate service.(At least I thought it was OK?) We had a bread roll lunch sitting outside at my daughter's house extensions, then changed into working clothes and built a little entrance deck to the back door. It turned out pretty good... I had thought it all out.... its so good when things go as planned! I packed up in time to move a big TV and have a cup of tea with my running friend. (We are not running, my friend's sports injury has stopped us... that's my story any way) I came home, had tea and promptly fell asleep, like some old man, in front of the TV... and was, according to my offspring, snoring like an old man!

I have had a full on week. Next week will be just as busy and the pace will only increase as we get toward Christmas. We are to run our 20th Christmas Day dinner for poor or lonely people in Dunedin. My wife spent $520 on buying 25 legs of hogget (Year old sheep) to be cooked for the Christmas dinner. We have an increasing number of people ringing up to book in. I emailed the man who cooks the meat for us (a pie factory in town) but he has not replied. I discovered that his son has taken over the business.... I hope he's as nice as his dad... 25 legs needs a lot of ovens! I have a heap of letters and publicity to send out this week for this venture. I have a Habitat working bee next Saturday to plan for. ....etc. etc.

Anyway I digress... I WAS SNORING like an old man in front of the TV. Am I getting old? Can I hack the pace? I have a friend 6 years older than me who tells me earnestly to "Slow down! You're not young anymore!" I have contemporaries who are looking to work 3 days a week! One told me he wants to play golf! (I could not think of anything more boring!!) I confidently say "I would rather burn out than rust out!" and that's true. ... but I was snoring... so tired I could not watch a documentary I was interested in? May be you do slow down? I am sitting here with a nice cool beer, and looking forward to a day off tomorrow... well there's a few things I have to do. My daughter says "beer makes you snore." Well too bad! People keep telling me I am an old man now and old men are allowed to snore!! There has to be some advantages to getting older!
Let me die, working.
Still tackling plans unfinished, tasks undone!
Clean to its end, swift may my race be run.
No laggard steps, no faltering, no shirking;
Let me die, working!

Let me die, thinking.
Let me fare forth still with an open mind,
Fresh secrets to unfold, new truths to find,
My soul undimmed, alert, no question
Let me die, thinking!

Let me die, laughing.
No sighing o'er past sins; they are forgiven.
Spilled on this earth are all the joys of Heaven;
The wine of life, the cup of mirth quaffing.
Let me die, laughing!
(S. Hall Young, 1847-1927)

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Who am I? ...My Thursday .

I'm going to tell you about the different "hats" of yesterday. Arrived at the church office at 8:30. I put on my Workplace Support Hat (WPS hat) and rang my boss there to report on events in the firm she and I are supporting...made a time to catch up and discuss. Put on my church janitor (CJ hat) hat and put away the chairs a gardening group had left out in the hall, to replace them with tables and chairs for the women's tea. Then church minister's hat (C.M. hat) to receive a phone call from elders' chairman to discuss the purchase of a big screen TV for the church. Checked my emails and settled to do a little reading and note taking for Sunday's service. I rang a man who wanted to be a guest at our Christmas day dinner and confirmed that and was about to go out when an elder came to discuss the purchase of the big TV and we had tape measure out and talked location, transport etc. Put on WPS hat and visited the brewery wandering around there talking to guys and the interim manager. Rushed back to the church, put on C.M. hat, checked phone messages and responded to a couple. While eating lunch I met with the organist to discuss music for Sunday, then put on my Habitat for Humanity (H4H) hat and husband hat to discuss catering requirements for an evening Habitat for Humanity meeting I was running. After delivering my wife to the hospital to do her "Friend of the Emergency Dept" duties I put on my WPS hat and reported to my boss and over coffee discussed our common project and another chaplaincy issue. Rushed back to the church with my WPS hat on and made two phone calls to set up appointments for next week. I then started to put on my H4H hat to prepare for the evening, but was interrupted by a phone call from a man wanting to come with his family to help on Christmas day. C.M hat was put on to discuss with him, then prepare a letter, and information leaflet to post out to him, then back to H4H hat to prepare a power point for the evening meeting. Interrupted by an H4H friend who calls each week for a cuppa and a chat, I am never sure whether I am helping him or he helps me. What hat to wear?... H4H? Friend? Church minister? H4H hat back on to prepare the powerpoint, interrupted by a lady wanting the kerosene heater filled and turned on for the womans tea. C.J hat on, dealt to the heater, fixed up the upstairs hall for the AA group who use it and back to H4H hat and power point... At 6p.m. I pick up my wife, fill the van with petrol and come back to the H4H powerpoint while my wife gets a MacDonalds burger and chips for our tea. At 7:30 with H4H hat firmly on I go around to the presy support conference room, set up and run the promotional evening for prospective families wanting to apply for the next Habitat house. Home around 10 p.m. to do some CM hat reading... Who am I? Chaplain? Janitor? Habitat director? Minister? ... nah... just JC's helper. It's funny people talk about being "called" to the ministry and "called" to a particular church. If I described my "calling" it would be to be just one of JC's helpers to the city. Its a calling to people and to a community, rather than a religious institution. The institution is the base from which I bounce. Today started with a phone call at 6:50 a.m. from a man wanting to come to the christmas dinner. I will wear my CM hat, my CJ, my H4H hat twice, my WPS hat twice,(Ambulance and Firestations) my Night Shelter hat as it is my turn to carry the phone for the weekend, and my day will end sometime after 10p.m. when I get home from our Drop-in Centre.

Being JC's helper is never dull. I hope you have a good Friday.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Building progress

Tonight we should finish putting the wall board on the two rooms on my daughter's extensions. Yesterday I sat with a family who were screaming abuse at each other. We have my daughter and son-in-law living with us while the extensions are in progress. We are enjoying working together on the extensions. I am so fortunate that we get on so well and my family generally suffers this old fool's ways with patience. Families are meant to be there for each other, to build each other up and bear one another's burdens. I am thankful for the kids I have, eccentric and off the wall though they sometimes are. Here are some photos.

My reading is ringing bells.

My daughter loaned me a book by Cathleen Falsani called "The God Factor". In it various celebrities share their spirituality. There is a chapter about Barack Obama. He says "So, I have a deep faith. I'm rooted in the Christian Tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."... Great stuff Mr President Elect!!! That rings bells with me!

Then a few chapters later author and life coach Iyanla Vanzant (who I know nothing about) is quoted talking about "The Principles" She says, "All of the sacred Scriptures - the Qur'an, the Bhagavad Gita, the Tao, the teachings of I Ching, the Holy Bible - teach principles," .... "When you hear The Principles, see, people know. We know. At the very core and essence of our being is the calling of God. We know it. But we get so busy with bills and children and relationships and jobs and Kool-aid, you know, that we don't pay attention to it. But if you listen to people, you can hear the common thread." What are The Principles? "Faith. Trust. Honour. Respect. Awareness. Acknowledgment. Compassion, " she says. "I did a lot of reading. I did a lot of comparison... my gift is to be able to look at it all and see the oneness". Amen! Iyanla, whoever you are, you're talking my language!

I could quote others also but I love this reality. Behind us all is an underlying "oneness" and "essence of values and being" that we can discover, recognise in each other and fit into. That's what I find. I enjoy discovering, uncovering, drawing out the principles and essential values and unity in the people about me. I discover this essence in all sorts of people, in all sorts of situations, - believers and non-believers, intelligent and not so gifted, young and old and it is one of the deep core experiences. I must confess that I am disappointed not to find it as often as I would hope "in Church" among religious people where one would expect to find it. I wonder why? It is sad but I sometimes think the distortion of "religion" blocks the experience. We religious people think we know it, we think we have defined it and got it sussed out. But that's our mistake. Somehow when we lose that sense of journeying, mystery and openness in institutional dogmatised religion, when this "sacred" becomes taken for granted, the reality we talk about eludes us. Then, sadly, we lose touch with the essence, the reality that true religion is supposed to point to. When we retain a sense of learning, mystery, journeying and openness to others and growth, we are surprised by sensing and "knowing" the sacred in and around us. Obama confesses a suspicion of dogma. he says, "... there's an enormous amount of damage done ... in the name of religion and certainty." Now THAT rings bells for me.

I am enjoying the book because I am discovering a sense of kinship with these widely different people.

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Building progress

We have been busy during spare moments over the weekend working on my daughters extensions. We put the ceiling up on Saturday and made a start on the wall gib today. Yesterday I worked out me and my new drill screwed in 277 screws uphill into the ceiling! More into the wall today. My car Wicked Wanda stopped again... maybe she did not like the election result either?

The election in New Zealand...

I feel sad, less optimistic and scared for our future. I don't think our new leader has statesman-like qualities and I question his motivations and who he will be listening to. I suspect we will be embarrassed by his lack of perception and insight. I hope I am proved wrong.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Questioning Armistice day.

Some of you may hate me for this. On Tuesday it is Armistice day, ninety years since the end of World War One. Because of this today's papers are full of World War One nostalgia and tomorrow there is going to be a parade through town. There will be military units marching, military vehicles and a couple of Mustangs are going to do a fly by. I recall at primary school on the eleventh hour, of the eleventh day of the eleventh month we used to have to stop in the play ground for one minute's silence. WW1 was a fairly substantial for NZ. Something like 100000 men fought overseas out of a total population of about 1.1 million. Casualties were high. I find myself questioning the way we celebrate days like Armistice day though. I guess it is a valid to remember, but I am not sure about how we remember.

Question 1. When does due recognition of a sacrifice made stop us from learning and moving on? I once had a widow in my church who years after her husband's death still kept his toothbrush in the bathroom and his pyjamas under his pillow. Now some would want to say to her, "Isn't it time you moved on?" Now I am not saying forget the war all together, but I suggest we should remember it in a way that shows we have moved on. Perhaps we should have films, shows, services and fundraising that builds international bridges and promotes the ways of peace? I wonder if some of the young men who died would be saying, "Stop strutting around looking back 90 years, move on and celebrate and build the peace we fought for!". Once I was organising an Armistice day service and a vet said to me, "I hope you are not going to go on about how brave we were going off to war! We were not brave! Many of us went to war because society expected it of us and we were too scared NOT to go. While we were there we were scared out of our minds most of the time. There were a few who went for the adventure. It was for them like going off on an extended hunting trip, they would be back in a few months. Reality hit them when they arrived in action. Most of us certainly did not understand the 'causes' we were fighting for. It was a blind patriotism." How do we celebrate honestly those emotions? Perhaps if they were truly brave, in some wars they might have stood against the crowd and questioned the war effort?

Question 2. When does valid remembrance cross the boundary into glorifying war and what war stands for? I recall once being involved in a civil Anzac service and the speaker from the RSA spent his time promoting spending money on the war machine and promoted the ways of militarism, in spite of the fact that I had read about the lion lying down with the lamb, and turning swords into plow shears. I nearly walk off the stage. But tomorrow's parade seems almost a promotion of the ways of war. It says that when there is conflict the way to resolve it is to fight? It says that real men fight for their rights by killing, maiming others? It affirms violence as a way of life? In our society, in which there is already too much violence, we do not need those messages affirmed. I bought a book when I was a teenager. It was a history of the second world war in photos. I read and re-read this book, I loved military things and was and still am, proud of my dad's war service. It's title was "Our Finest Hour!" But if "Our finest Hour" was when we went overseas and killed and maimed our brothers and sisters, then God help us! Our Prime minister talking about Gallipolli said that then, "as a nation we came of age." Again, if the military disaster of Gallipolli was when we came of age, and "grew up" then God help us! We are proud of some pretty terrible activity! Surely there are other more constructive things to be proud of? War, if it is justified should be remembered sadly, as a necessary evil, that we reluctantly we had to be involved in... not "our finest hour"!

Question 3. What about all those who have given themselves sacrificially for the benefit of the community in peaceful ways? My mum was left a widow with five teenage children. For years she got up, got us moaning lot out of bed and off to school, then went to work and cared for elderly people, to come home again, feed us and do the laundry, and take in sewing to make ends meet. All the time she had to try to cope with the grief of losing a loved husband. We have a solo mum in our church with two teenage girls. Her ex-husband was and is a loser, worse than useless to her and the girls. She has work cleaning but it is particularly hard. She has arthritis in her knees and a bad back. Yet day in day out she gets up and goes cleaning, hurting like hell in the process. We suggested that she go to a physio or Doctor for the pain, but she said she cant. If she does she would take time off work and if her boss knew of her ailments he would give her reduced hours, and so she would lose an income she depends on. So day in and day out, year after year she goes to work in pain. Fiercely independent in her personality, she is giving herself for her girls and for her community. Many people in their spare time and in their work, give themselves sacrificially again and again, in constructive ways, that make our society the place it is. No one marches in remembrance of them? No one truly celebrates their constructive sacrifices? Perhaps we should have a day celebrating these people as well? But no, like most of us, a generation after they are gone they will be forgotten. Perhaps incorporating some remembrance of positive sacrifices built into Anzac day or Armistice day would be good? Or maybe another day in which such giving is remembered, celebrated and affirmed?

Anyway, I find myself asking such questions of the way we remember. I do not want to undermine the memory, or diminish the enormity of their sacrifice. I am just saying that we may indeed be perpetuating some unhelpful values and perspectives in the way we remember and celebrate. Some different ways of remembering might be good, ninety years on.

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

"The Good Life..."

Last night I watched "Molokai" with some people from the church. Once a month we have "Movies with Meaning." It is a very moving movie. Among the many lines in the film was one I thought had great implications. Father Damien went to a building to rescue some kids. This building in the leper colony was where people drank heavily, girls worked as prostitutes etc. The idea given in the film was that these were lepers who knew that life held no future for them so they may as well enjoy what they could in "debauchary" (to use an old term) He went there to rescue these children and while there discovered that one of the girls living in this way was a young woman he had felt close to, and was tempted by, but had rejected because of his vows. Her response to his heartaching, enquiring look was, "Well, I am entitled to the good life." He looked deeply sad for a moment and almost looked like he was going to just walk away. Then he said something like, "The good life! ... the good life was when you fed the sick, held the children, made them less scared and made them laugh. That was the good life." Then he quietly and sadly walked away.

I sometimes look at the people around me living "The Good Life." My firemen for example, have heaps of free time and make big money. They have time and money to do and have so much that I can never afford. They sometimes scoff at the things I do for people,- "Why do it?" they ask. I sometimes think, where would I be if I never got involved in this ministry thing? What would it be like to "be normal"? Knock off at 5? Have weekends? Not be on call 24/7? Where would I be if we never spent money around the church and community like I do? What could I do if I never gave so many Saturdays to Habitat? What would life be like without drop-in centre and meetings etc. etc.? Sometimes I feel like I am pouring myself out all the time and that may be I should ditch it all and live for me???

I know I lead an unbalanced life, and I need to bring more balance into it, but as I talk with and have ongoing contact with people living "the good life" I often come away with the feeling that they seem sadly hollow, empty and superficial. They are struggling to find fulfilment in things that can never deliver. They worry about "little stuff" and I want to yell at them, "Get a life!". As unbalanced as I am, I think I have the better deal. When I stop and reflect, I am so fortunate to be where I am at.... and still learning still expanding my experiences of life. It's the grace of God. I am stupidly busy, but every now and then I get a deep buzz, as something reminds me that my life is "making a difference" and I am not just filling in time till the clock stops ticking for me. Maybe Jesus was right about "losing your life to gain it"? The good life is being there for and with others.

Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Still building... more than meets the eye.

We are building the extensions to my daughter's house only on weekends and free evenings now so progress has slowed. To show that we have done some things here is a photo.

To make those parapets water tight on top and where they join the roof and then tie everything together took a lot of thinking and work for this ex-plumber. The photo doesn't look much, only I know the sleepless nights, worry and thought that went into it all. There are so many jobs like that. No one really knows what goes in behind the jobs we do. A sermon has hours of thought and preparation but looks easy on the day. I rode yesterday with ambulance officers who discussed different "jobs" and I gained an insight into the decisions they make every day and all the considerations behind the treatment they give. No doubt you can think of heaps of examples like that, where the "work behind the work" is never seen. Anyway... here's a photo

Being there for people....2 thoughts

First thought.... I spent today with peer support people from Ambulance and Fireservice at a training day. There was a psychologist bloke talking to us. His presentation style made listening to him harder work than it need to have been. I am sure he is a good counsellor....but as he presented his ideas to these people, I felt he did not really understand where they were at. He kept using illustrations from his counselling work, but their activity in being there for their colleagues is a lot different than people coming for appointments in a counselling room. His suggestions often did not fit their situation and you could see them screwing up their faces as they listened. It reminded me of something that happened to me years ago. I was being supervised by a counsellor and talked to him about issues I was having with someone in one of my chaplaincies. He responded and made suggestions about how I could draw this guy out, and go ever deeper with him. I listened but then pictured my average conversation with this man. I said to my supervisor, "Yes I can see how your approach is good and would be helpful.... if I was sitting in a chair and he had come to me for counselling. But I see this guy while he is driving a forklift and we have shouted conversations while I am riding on the running board! It is very different." The moral of the story I, as a presenter need reminded of again and again, and was reminded of today, is that if you are going to help people by talking to them, you must first listen to where they are so that you can speak into their situation.

The second thought...
I came back to Dunedin and attended a church elders' team meeting. There we reflected on people I am, or have been involved with. I came home at about 9:30p.m. and my daughter and son-in-law were watching the movie "Molokia". It is a great true story about Father Damien who lived on an island to care for and support the leper colony there. I looked in on the lounge and watched the part where Father Damien realises that he has contracted leprosy. I had been listening to people all day; we had been reflecting on people I have been involved with and this part of the film nearly brought me to tears. (Though I have watched the film lots of times.) It struck me that just like Father Damien who was there for lepers and contracted leprosy, when we are there for people, we often suffer from the same "illness" they suffer from. I was chaplain when firefighters were angry about industrial strife, and I had to battle with anger in myself. I spend heaps of time listening to the confusions of mental health problems, and their pain becomes my pain. I listen to emergency workers who deal with tragic incidents, and something of the pain of the tragedies rubs off on me. Mostly you deal with it, but just sometimes you feel a sort of emotional tiredness. Tonight is one of those times. The other side of the coin is the privilege I have of being let into other people's life experience and therefore broadening, deepening and enriching my own journey. When I stop and think about it, I get so much more out of life by being there for others. From one perspective, for every year that I live, because others have let me share their lives, I experience much much more than a year's worth of living.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

A beautiful Spirit...

We run a drop-in centre every Friday evening from 6:30 - 9:30. It is held in an upstairs hall we call "The Upper Room". All sorts of people come. Some are alcoholics; many are mental health patients; most are unemployed and some struggle with drug issues. The youngest there last Friday night was a baby about 3 months old, the oldest an alcoholic who visits from a psychiatric ward was in his mid to late 70s. When I opened the doors at 6:30 to let the waiting crowd in, I noticed the father of the baby was leaning against the church doors, downing a stubby of beer. By the look of him it was not his first! Later he staggered in and played pool. I came down stairs half-way through the night to discover that he had smashed a half full bottle of beer on the all weather matting in the entrance way of the church hall. I began to gather the gear to clean up the slithers of glass and excess beer.

We have a well known town drunk, we'll call her Mary who attends the church drop-in. Her life story is sad indeed, and now in her fifties she is seldom sober and often in court. Well Mary discovered this mess the same time I did. She was lovely. She was totally angry that someone would smash a beer bottle in a church! For her, churches were God's house! She apologised to me for the guy's actions and in spite of the protestations of her caring husband, insisted on getting down on her knees to help me pick up the glass and empty the excess beer into a bucket. I was so so touched. Here in the midst of her muddled mind still shining through is a beautiful caring spirit. I could not help but reach my arm around her shoulder and give her a friendly hug when we had finished the job.