Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

A New Year sermon... :-) Live hopefully.

I hate the chaplain and manager of Ross Home, an aged care facility here in Dunedin. Each Christmas they send a Christmas card to say "thank you" for taking your turns at leading chapel services, but they include the roster for the next year. It is a harsh reminder that the new year will soon be upon us! When I wake up tomorrow it will be next year... another 49 Sunday morning services, 45 Friday drop-in centres, 16 radio services, 98 visits to the fire station, 98 visits to ambulance, Habitat working bees, meetings, etc etc etc. How can I sustain myself for yet another year of busyness? How can I avoid burnout? Lately I have been reminding myself of a sermon I preached a few months ago on "Hope". Here goes the basics of it.

We knew a young woman who was blind and was intellectually handicapped. A delightful woman named Beverley. She lived relatively close to a rail track. I recall more than once sitting on the couch with her and out of the blue she would say, "Train, David, train!" Her mum would explain that in 5 minutes time there would be a train pass by. It was not that Beverley knew the timetable, it was that her hearing was so acute that she could hear a train coming when the rest of us were not aware of its existence. To me "Hope" is like that. It is the ability to see and hold on to unseen eternal realities.

First.... the ability to see the flowers among the weeds. Our media gives us endless bad news. Children beaten. Wars and unrest. People ripping off the hospital system. You name it, there is an endless procession of bad news. People we encounter do bad things and keep making stupid decisions and cause suffering to themselves and others. Sometimes the best of us can be evil, selfish and nasty. "Hope" though is the ability to see past the suffering and evil and remember, celebrate and exalt the good. For every mum or dad who beats their kid there are hundreds who are responsible loving parents who would die for their kids. For every war there are thousands of people who through their involvement in their communities make for peaceful, harmonised and wholesome community life. For every time I am nasty, there are times when I, even I, can be kind generous and loving. Will Rogers said, "I have never met a man I didn't love." If I stop and think about it, in spite of all the bad news, virtually everyone I know is basically a good person who has qualities I can cherish. Hope is the ability to see, celebrate and hold on to the good, beautiful and lovely all about us. The Apostle Paul, sitting on death row wrote... "fill your minds with those things that are true, noble, right, lovely, and honourable."

Second.... "Hope" is the ability to see the immense power that there is in love, friendship, kindness, generosity and forgiveness. I had an "uncle" (husband of my father's cousin) who lived near us when I was a teenager. He had nearly an acre of ground and a big vege garden. After dad died he decided that he would grow veges for our family and I went up to his place on Saturdays to help him. We would work away there, and every now and then he would take a break, sit on the bank for a smoke and pat the ground next to him and say, "Take a rest laddie." He sat there puffing on his cigarette, telling stories, (from his youth, from his war experiences, from his working week) or asking me questions about my week. When I grew to adult hood I discovered I did not agree with everything he said, but it was his simple friendship that helped me get through teenage years, and helped shape me. I have read many books, I have listened to many sermons, but again and again it is simple acts of friendship, love and kindness that have changed me and helped me to grow and be different. We often think the world's health depends on the rich and powerful. Military power or authority and influence will change the world, ...we think. Hope though is the ability to see that simple acts of self-giving love are the most powerful dynamic to change people, society, history and the world. Jesus died on the cross helpless and forgiving. From the world's perspective a stupid act. But that self giving has unleashed world changing love on the world. Every act of friendship and kindness impacts on the world and like the ripples in a pond after a stone is thrown, that goodness spreads beyond itself. Jesus said, "The kings of this world have power over their people... but this is not the way it is with you; rather, the greatest one among you must be like the youngest, and the leader must be like a servant." Martin Luther King said, "Love is the only power that can change an enemy into a friend." "Hope" is the ability to see that and trust it.

Thirdly.... "Hope" is the ability to know that there is a "presence" or "layer of reality" at work in the world. One of the few things I do well is facilitate groups. I have learned that when a group of people get together in openness and honesty, some sort of unseen "spirit" guides them toward truth. The truth "emerges" amongst them. I have run debriefs amongst emergency workers, and again and again have discovered a caring "spirit" leading and guiding. I have run a community Christmas Day Dinner for twenty years and NEVER been short of money or volunteers. I have experienced "nudges" and "challenges" and "affirmations" and "callings" in my own journey that are timely gifts-of-grace that I cannot explain. I look at history and see this mysterious presence at work, bring change toward justice and wholeness. Bishop Desmond Tutu, in the middle of the struggle against apartheid could tell his suffering people that he knew that their cause was just and truth would prevail. Paul could say, "he is in all and through all." and "In Him we live and move and have our being." "Hope" is to believe that there is a presence, among us, within us and within the world that nudges us toward love, freedom, justice, and harmony (shalom)

Tomorrow is 2009... I pray that I will live it "hopefully". Happy New Year and all the best for 2009. I promise not to include a sermon again... unless I am "nudged". (Photo: Beverley

Monday, December 29, 2008

A good author...

I am reading a book by Rabbi Harold S. Kushner. It is called "How Good do we have to be?" (I bought it at a second hand bookstore.... I think heaven will be heaps of secondhand book stores and heaps of hardware stores... I would be in heaven!) Perhaps I bought it because I want to rationalise my bad behaviour? He is a good writer. I have two other books of his, "When bad things happen to Good People." and "Who needs God?" Both I found helpful. Any way a quote from this book rings bells with me. It may also with you.
"My experience as a clergyman and a counsellor has taught me that much of the unhappiness people feel burdened by, much of the guilt, much of the sense of having been cheated by life, stems from one of two related causes: either somewhere along the way, somebody - a parent, a teacher, a religious leader - gave them the message that they were not good enough, and they believed it. Or else they came to expect and need more from the people around them - their parents, children, husbands, or wives - than those people could realistically deliver. It is the notion that we were supposed to be perfect, and that we could expect others to be perfect because we needed them to be, that leaves us feeling constantly guilty and perpetually disappointed."

Wow... He's talking about me! I oscillate between depression - anger at myself- and judgemental attitudes and anger toward others.

A little bit further in the book he writes...
"We need the demanding voice of the prophet to hold us to high standards, so that we can grow and be all that we are capable of being. We need to be told that God loves us because we are in fact lovable people, because we deserve love, because we have earned it. And we need the comforting voice of the priest to assure us that even when we don't feel we deserve to be loved, God loves us anyway because He is a loving, forgiving God who knows us too well to expect more from us than we are capable of being."
These are not new insights, but I am finding the way he puts them together helpful. Its good to have time to read.

Exercise report.... Since I started on this "5 week, exercise-every-day get fit again" journey I have exercised 9 days out of 15. On two of the off days I was setting up or resetting the church before and after Christmas Day dinner. I think I ran up and down enough stairs for it to count as exercise.... so I have exercised 11 days of the 15. I am feeling better about myself already. :-) I will keep you posted.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Wedding ceremony....

On Sunday afternoon as a favour for a Japanese friend, I conducted a western style wedding ceremony in the church for her visiting nephew and wife. Experiencing the language barrier with these folk and their relatives was interesting. Our friend interpreted, but said how difficult it was to translate concepts from one language to another.

Christmas dinner photo...

Some of the guests and volunteers at the Christmas Day Community dinner.

Friday, December 26, 2008

My kids are friends now...

Today we had our Christmas Day gathering of the family. We were all a bit tired from yesterday's community dinner but it has been good.

I have especially enjoyed the fact that my kids have been around us. 4 of our 5 kids were at the Christmas dinner, one making a rushed early morning trip from Christchurch to be there. Our second oldest was with his fiance's family in the North Island. Apart from our severely handicapped foster daughter, each happily helped with the dinner.(Though she happily participated) This morning I walked up the mountain with my youngest (now nearly thirty) and it was like two familiar friends chatting or enjoying silence. He took copious photos and enjoyed the walk. My other son had to show me his car, let me drive it, talk through issues and thoughts. My daughter and husband are like colleagues on the same journey in life. Tonight I talked to my son in the North Island and he chatted away about his life, gave me a safety warning about my new router machine, talked about his stuff. As teens all of them were hard going to get great conversations out of. "Probably", "Whatever" "Don't know" "Maybe" seemed to be their favourite words. It is sooo rewarding that they look after each other the way they do, that they want to be in touch, that they treat me like a friend. Today I have felt blessed to have these kids around. If you are going through life with a teenager and you are wondering where your nice little kid that you once had a great relationship with went, my condolences. Be encouraged, they can come back and want to be with you. I enjoyed that today.

I have been back at work tonight... there's a service on Sunday and a wedding ceremony in the afternoon. There is no rest for the wicked they say. I have to get the church seating back in order, pull down the Christmas tree so the organ can be played and look intelligent by Sunday. Oh Well... today it was nice to be normal.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

No one is an island...

Christmas Dinner happened again in Dunedin. I have been interviewed by the media about it in these last few days. Once again I made my annual two second appearance on TV. The feeling I came away with was, "What did I do?" It was a whole bunch of volunteers who made it a reality for people. I will list some of them. I have two close friends in Dunedin. Each has a van. Both vans were made available to me on the day, one doing several trips with people and the other picking up the meat. As I drove into town around 7 this morning I was aware that someone linked to Marlow St pies had been in and switched on the ovens. The meat arrived on time nicely cooked. At 9 I loaded the vegetables in my van and took them around to Alex. He was already getting things going in his kitchen at the Little India Restaurant. There were drivers heading unseen all around Dunedin transporting at least 80 people to the dinner. There was a couple who came along and took the van out to get the meat. About 60 volunteers acted as hosts at the tables, dished out meals, cleaned up dishes, talked to people, listened to people and made themselves available. Two crews from the fire service came and carved meat. Another of my firemen friends came and just bust his gut working, and dashing out for last minute pickups. etc. etc. etc. I felt extremely humbled by all the work of the volunteers... and the thing is they spent a big part of Christmas day wearing themselves out, getting out of comfort zones, giving themselves freely and then they thanked me for letting them be involved... for heaven's sake!

I recall reading a statement by Sir Winston Churchill. People were saying how he was the lionhearted one who saved England during the war. His comment went something like this. "The people of Britain were the lion, I was just the one privileged to be the lion's roar!" That's how I feel. I was privileged today to be the spokesperson for a vast group of people who shared the Christmas spirit with others in Dunedin this Christmas. For that I am thankful. I hope you all had a great Christmas day.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Christmas greetings....

Just a few stories from my christmas experiences so far...

Dave puts his foot in it....
I was handing out jobs last night as we prepared for our Christmas day dinner. One family arrived asking for jobs. My mind raced and went to the 25 legs of hogget (year old mutton) that had to be prepared for cooking. I burst forth into great explanations about what had to happen etc. then paused. There was silence and strange looks between the family members. Then the dad said, "We're vegetarians!" .... They were very good about it as I found another job for them to do. There was lots of laughter.

Profanity in church...We have a big christmas tree and I had set some guys the task of setting it up. When it came to lifting it into place they called me over to help. As we were lifting the top caught on a beam. "Buggar!" said one of the volunteers. He then realised that he was in a church standing next to the Rev. and looked at me sheepishly and quickly said, "Oooh... am I allowed to say that in here?" I winked at him and assured him the church walls had heard worse. Again lots of laughter.

Early phone call... We had a phone call at 6:30 a.m. this morning! We were up but phone calls at that time in a minister's house often mean a funeral coming up. It wasn't this time. It was Joan, the town drunk. She had decided that it was time to book her and a couple of mates in for the Christmas day dinner. We could not be angry. She was sober. In spite of all the crap in Joan's life she has a beautiful loving spirit and we were pleased that she is coming. It is a privilege to be able to treat her well on this special day. One of my lasting christmas day memories is of me and Joan dancing together on the platform of the church to the music that was playing.

Christmas Greetings...a couple of thoughts about why I celebrate christmas. Hans Kung at the end of one of his books writes...."By following Jesus Christ, people in the world today can live, act suffer and die in a truly human way; in happiness and unhappiness, life and death, sustained by God and helpful to fellow men and women." In my experience that's what Jesus can do and that's why I celebrate his birth.

Studdert-Kennedy, a chaplain in the WW1 wrote ...
"I bet my life on Beauty, Truth,
and love, not abstract but incarnate truth..."

"... and I believe that Evil dies,
And Good lives on, loves on, and conquers all-
All war must end in peace. these clouds are lies.
they cannot last. The blue sky is the truth.
For God is love. Such is my faith, and such
my reasons for it, and I find them strong
enough. And you? You want to argue? Well'
I can't. It is a choice. I choose the Christ."
(A few lines from a poem called "Faith")

You may have gathered that I have an impatience with "religion" but I am hooked on Jesus whose birthday we celebrate. In the words of a song by Don Williams, "I believe in love"
To you my mysterious readers, I wish you a very happy Christmas. Above all I hope you enjoy lots of love.

Dave Brown... "Father Ted" "JC's helper" :-)
Slide 11

Christmas fun....

I have just finished a great evening. I have been on the run and sweating most of the night but it has been sooo much fun. A bunch of volunteers from the community came in to the church building with some from my church and some from my chaplaincy office. Together we joked, sweated, dreamt and transformed the church into a welcoming eating place for our Community Christmas Day dinner. We have decorations all over the place, and a big christmas tree, tables all decorated and set and veges prepared. People we didn't know before became friends and we all finished with supper. In all the twenty years, this was the quickest that we managed to do it. Wow! Sometimes I love my work and feel like I am so privileged! It is a christmas miracle.

Monday, December 22, 2008

What's their problem?

We have stained glass windows in our church on a public corner down town. A few weeks ago some bright spark threw a beer bottle through one of the windows. We had to get it fixed. I heard one of our property guys talking to our treasurer. It cost over a $1000 to fix! One stupid act. We are a church that tries to serve the community. We run a drop-in and feed at least 40 people on Friday nights. We give food and money to a local food bank. We have programs geared to support people in the community. That means that $1000 is wasted! It cannot be spent on the community! Why does someone want to throw beer bottles at us? Are they angry? Why are they angry? It seems stupid. (Not that I am all in favour of stained glass windows, but they were there well before I was.)

I was sitting in the car parked opposite the law courts today while my wife paid a bill. (No not at the court!) All of a sudden a whole lot of people, some wearing gang patches, spewed out on the footpath. They were yelling abuse at each other and threatening each other. One mob went off one way while the others came toward where I was parked. There were children, teenagers and adults. They were comparing notes about their court appearances and asking who else was still inside. I looked at them. Some were quite nice looking young people but with gang patches on and tats. I wondered about their lifestyle. It does not take a rocket scientist to figure that their way of life will lead to suffering for them, for their families, for the people about them and the community. Why do it? Why not sit down and figure it out and change your ways? What are they angry about? How can people reach out to them?

I ache for people like that. I have no answers. People who say they have answers often have over simplified theories. But I wish I could make a difference for them.

Exercise report: Today I climbed my mountain. The photo is a rock formation called the Organ Pipes part way up the shorter track I went on today. They used to be much more imposing and impressive, but a rock fall a few years ago sent the larger ones tumbling down the hill.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday "stuff"

Exercise report: First.... Confession... I have had two "rest days" from exercise. On Friday we were invited to an end of year house-warming at the latest Habitat for Humanity house so I did not get to exercise. On Saturday evening we went out to spend a voucher for an expensive meal-out that I received at my sixtieth birthday weekend. It was a taste of how the other half live. $164:50 for two meals in a nice restaurant! ... So no exercise. Tonight, however, with a clear blue sky I went for a 6.5 k jog.... slow but it will get easier. It was nice....when I stopped.

Thanksgiving: I sat and enjoyed conversation and a beer in the Habitat house. As I looked around at a family now living there, the atmosphere, the warmth and hospitality I could not help but remember that it once was just a dirty, overgrown section and that little old me had helped make this home a reality. I am thankful for Habitat for Humanity and what can be done through it's system.

A wow: I have a running friend who on Saturday headed off to join her family in a visit to family in Perth, her home town. (I know it sounds unpatriotic .... but I do have one or two Australian friends) We run together once a week when we are able. At the end of my jog tonight I got my little old near-matchbox-size cell phone and texted her a report.... "6.5 k jog... clear blue sky" etc. Within a few seconds I got a reply, "Christmas shopping with mum." Now I know that these days that is very basic, run of the mill, take it for granted technology.....but it still makes me shake my head in wonderment. Here I am on the roadside in Dunedin.... pushing buttons on a wee box in the palm of my hand, here she was in some unknown shop .... miles and miles away.. across Australia in Perth and she read what I texted and replied within seconds!!! I remember the amazing technology that used to be. You could dial (spin manual dial) the tolls operator and ask for a number in Perth. They would call up an Australian operator and they would dial the house phone of that person and there would be countless "Are you there caller?" questions and "Please hold the line" statements..... and just maybe you would get a crackly connection. Well this old man is still blown away by texting internationally!

A cringe and question: I had a phone call in the office the other day. It was "Mary" and she asked for my wife. When I said she wasn't there she said, "I just rang to wish yous a happy Christmas, tell your wife I have another grandchild, I'll be in touch after Christmas." Now I know that sounds nice and friendly, but Mary is a bludger. Nearly every Christmas she runs out of credibility with the social work agencies and turns to us to bludge money out of us. There is always some great sob story. The other day I got another phone call. "Hi Davy matey!" said this voice, "It's been a couple of years, how are you?.. this is 'Frank', remember me?" My heart sank. I remembered the voice and the false friendliness. He just wanted to book in for the Christmas dinner, which I was happy to do. "Frank" (Not his real name) used to bludge money out of me years ago and try again and again to bludge money for petrol. He always had some sob story, but the ominous thing about him was that he almost got threatening when you didn't oblige. (Which I didn't) "I have friends in the mongrel mob and I know where you live!" he once said. Well today he rang up at lunchtime and the same sort of ominous tone came into the dialogue. All very friendly, "You must be at your home in Sawyers Bay, I need some money for gas, when will you be in town again?" "Not till Tuesday" I lied. "I really need it today but on Tuesday I will come and discuss it with you." I know that "Frank" has cut someone with a knife who did not oblige once! I suspect he has a drug and drink problem. I just hate the slimy nature of his approach, the lies and hinted threats. Why me? What do you do with people like Frank and Mary? Jesus said, "To give to any who asks of you." I am a relatively soft touch but I have also evolved a great "bullshit-detector" and I dislike lies, whiny stories and perpetual bludgers. Some are just creepy. God give me the wisdom, courage and love to deal constructively with the Franks and Marys of this world and this season.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Exercise report day 4

Last night I went home from work, changed into my bright-yellow-road safety tee shirt and cycling track pants and went for a ride from Sawyers Bay to town, around a bit then back home. Nice...
I have enjoyed cycling since my dad bought me a rusty-single-speed-28inch-back-peddling-brake "Leader" when I was about 8- 9? years old. At first I could not reach the seat. Then the handle bars were so rusty they broke and I crashed on the ground. That bike saw me through until I left school. It was my freedom. I could do tricks on it. I went for quite extensive bike rides. I slid over once and was concussed. My mum got a phone call to say that her son was down the road struggling to get on his bike again, but kept collapsing. I woke up hours later in bed at home with a concerned looking doctor peering at me, and a very sore head. As kids we made "dirt track bikes" up out of stuff from the rubbish tip. We had a track or two in the bush and we would time each other to do ten laps. One track had a corner on it that if you missed it you ended up in the creek. When we broke frames or wheels we just returned to the rubbish tip for new parts.

In 1965 when I left school I went on a Christmas/new year holiday up to the Waikato and there did some work on the back of a hay truck. I saved 30 pound! I came back to Dunedin and started my plumbing apprenticeship. My first pay was 4pound 11shillings! Mum let me off paying board that week and I was able to purchase a shining new "Rudge" ten speed bike. (33pound ten shillings!) They were very rare items then. I still have it on a wind trainer in the garage. It was my transport to and from work. It was my escape in the weekends. I went on even longer bike rides. It was the way I relieved stress. I once rode it in to go to a country and western show with my girlfriend. (now wife) New trousers and all I was faster than the cars around town and would duck and dive through Saturday night traffic. ( I was often chased by friends in cars but I could always out manoeuvre them) This night I crashed! I recall sitting through this concert with a torn knee in my expensive new trousers, and a growing patch of blood trickling down my leg and elbow. On my way home after midnight on Saturday nights, I could ride along with my hands in my pockets, doing zigzags between the white lines on the centre of the road. I loved riding, and even in my first ministry when I was uptight and depressed, I would hop on that bike and race out to the flat country roads around Palmerston North and let off steam.

I still enjoy getting out on a bike and, including the "Rudge", I have three old bikes of various sorts. My newest bike (the fourth) I have had for about 18 months. It is a cheap $100 "mountain bike" (Though it warns about using it off road???) with 21 gears from K mart. It has already earned its cost. It has always been a dream of mine when I retire, to take time out and ride the length of New Zealand. We'll see.... but at the moment I still love spining the pedals, just as I did when I was a kid.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Enjoy the moment....

"dad-who-walk's" comment made me think of an incident that happened on one of my Mount Cargill walks. I was going up the shorter Organ-pipe track. The sun was shining through the fog drifting through the bush. You could see the rays, the variety of colours, it made the bush seem even more alive. I had had a fantail (little NZ bird with a fan-like tail) leading me up the track. I am never sure why they do this, but sometimes a fantail will jump off from a branch you are passing and fly a few paces ahead. They will watch you until you get closer, then jump ahead again. They will do this for some distance even around bends in the track. It feels like they want to keep you company, but it may be just protecting a nearby nest? But its a cute experience... I find myself talking to them. (which is a bit embarrassing if someone comes around the corner toward you! )

Anyway this particular morning all these things were happening and I was enjoying the experience. On a board walk part of the track I came across a disgruntled American tourist walking back down. She said, "It's no good going up there! You can't see a thing from the top! It's in the clouds." I passed some comment like "bad luck".... but if I had thought quickly enough I wanted to say, "Stop and look around you! Just the journey is worth it!" I have often thought of that. We keep wanting to reach some point in life when we are "happy", when we "have got it all" or have "got it together". I think life's a journey and while we may have our dreams for the future, its good and important to enjoy, taste and experience the moment, the present.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Exercise report...3

Tonight I jogged 5.5 k. I probably looked awful but I did it. :-)

Exercise report day 2

Tonight in the fog and later in the rain, I walked up the mountain again this time up the shorter "Organ Pipe" track. Two mountain walks in two days... nice! I recommend jogging or walking as not only good physical exercise, but as a great way to sort life out. I find walking in the bush good because there are fewer distractions. I have had the opportunity to sort through such things as people, priorities, relationships and responsibilities. I loved it tonight, even in the rain. It's a kind of "praying".

I have been watching a concert in tribute to Sir Howard Morrison, one of New Zealand's great entertainers, now in his old age. Another NZ singer, getting older also, John Rowles sang the song, "I did it my way." I hope I can say that at the end of my time. In a sense to be able to say that I expressed my values, gifts and contribution in a way that was true to myself. I hope it does not rain or blow tomorrow, I want to ride my bike. I'll let you know.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Exercise report...

I promised you my mysterious readers, to exercise every day for the next five weeks.... day one report... I walked up the longer track up my mountain. (Mount Cargill, Dunedin.) As I drove over the hill to Bethunes Gully, where you start the walk, I had to put my lights on because of the low lying fog. When I am fit I can do up and back in just over an hour and a half.... yesterday it was probably getting toward 2 hours. It is a constant hour ten minutes of uphill walking with no let up or easing of the grade. I love the mental challenge of pushing myself to keep going at a reasonable pace, and not to stop and take breathers. It is a good aerobic workout that way. When I returned to the car though, I could not start it because I had left my lights on. Daughter was driving past and rescued her poor going-senile father. I am thankful for cell phones and jumper leads! I must take some photos of the bush along the path for you. I love the solitude, the variety of greenery all about me and yesterday, because of rain earlier in the day, the creeks and waterfalls were looking their best.

Building pics.

Here are some pictures of the bathroom and the kitchen area of my daughter's building extensions. While we have not yet finished, they moved back home yesterday, reunited with their cat ("Rousseau") who has been in a cattery for some months. The kitchen bench is a temporary move... reinstalling their old one until they get their new units. It will all look good, be very functional and opens up the whole area to the sunlight. They have done well. The danger will be that we will ease up on the work because they are in. The electrician was there yesterday, and is returning to complete his stuff today. There should be hot water running by tonight. I have a couple of little bits of plumbing to do.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday's "stuff"

Building report... I have connected up the shower, the hand basin and a kitchen sink in my daughter's renovations. Another plumber is coming tomorrow to connect up the gas for the hot water system. I think they will move back into their house on Tuesday. We will still be doing some finishing stuff to it for a while but it is looking good! I am so relieved given that I was stressed out about doing the job at first.

Sunday service....We are singing Christmas carols. Given that I see many of the loved Christmas biblical stories as mainly mythological, making theological points, it is no wonder I find Christmas carols hard to cope with some times. The language is so ancient in many of them.("we too would thither"... "fain we embrace thee" ) Many of them have the whole point of Jesus' coming as us getting a ticket to heaven. ("And our eyes at last shall see him") Many say some scary things. ("Lo he abhors not the virgins womb" ... like the womb is something dirty??) Oh well I will continue to sing them as picturesque, poetical and mythical songs of praise. ... but good grief!!

Christmas dinner...I am blown away by donations given toward our Christmas day community dinner. This last week a total of $1050 unsolicited dollars has been given toward the dinner; a further $800 has been given for the work of the church; (A man, not from my congregation, but a father of a friend of mine, walked into my office the other day with a "Christmas present... I know you will put it to good use.") and Alex from the "Little India" restaurant has offered to buy the vegetables and cook them on the day.

The year's activities are over...All the night time meetings and activities I go to are in recess for the "great kiwi Christmas shut down". We are going from having virtually every night out, never being at home for an evening meal, to having every evening home this week, except an informal house warming with Habitat friends on Friday. What to do? So much time? I have got fat and flabby! I have been so busy that exercise has been non-existent. I can see the next five weeks having nice long daylight evenings, and me being clear of meetings. You can be my witnesses that I, David Hilliard Brown, will exercise (either gym, run, climb my mountain, or bike) on each of the days for the next five weeks. Well I'll try!! I will let you know... tomorrow on my day off I am working on a Habitat house doing little odd jobs.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

"ministry" & house progress.

I took some photos last night for the blog.

There is a strange looking macrocapa tree branch on our bedroom wall that has been with me since about 1976. When I was on holiday once I picked up the peice of wood and with a little saw, a pocket knife, hammer and a sharpened electrician's screw driver, I carved it. It has hung in our bedroom or my office since then reminding me about what is meant to be important for me. It reads; "Sir, we would see Jesus." It is a line from John's gospel when some greeks come to Philip looking for Jesus. It reminds me that as I relate to people and set my priorities, people should be able to look at my life and see the heart, mind and priorities of Jesus. I never really make it, but I am a slightly better man because of this old bit of wood.

The other two photos are of the toilet now installed in the extensions of my daughter's house and the "seritone" wallboard in the bathroom braced on to the wall. Hopefully over the weekend I will complete the plumbing enough for them to move back in to their house early next week. I will let you know.... My daughter can be heard saying often.... "What a miss!" (What a mission!) and the other night, "I'm over it!" I think they have done well because none of us have much spare time to do things in.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

Being with people...

I have a problem. What is ministry or chaplaincy? You see this morning I went with our church walking group on their walk. I dawdle along... most are either in their eighties or nearing eighty... talking and listening. But is it "work"? I go over to St John Ambulance and have my lunch and talk with various people. I listen, I share, I joke and sometimes some serious stuff comes up and we get into "in depth" discussions. But is it work? I went to the brewery the other day and the engineer was telling me with great pride how he solved the problems in the machinery. He was obviously enjoying telling me about it... I appreciated it and admired his work, being an ex-plumber. But is that "work"?

I have been to supervision and my supervisor reminded me that it is. I know it is, but it is soooo hard to quantify or value properly. The image I have in my mind that helps me justify my existence is the image of what one does when someone is struggling with hypothermia. You put your body against theirs under a blanket or in a sleeping bag. The warmth from your body helps heat their body and keeps them alive. I think that's what happens in such "ministry". You sit alongside people in the journey of life, and the warmth, the "life" from your journey helps sustain their journey, .... and vica verca. In my better moments I realise that. Playing pool or table tennis at the drop in, talking, joking, greeting, listening just "being" with people and allowing them "to be" is an important "ministry". And ... anybody can do it! and.... to use the words of a song... "that's what friends are for!" I have realised in the last couple of weeks that an extremely valuable part of friendship is having some people in the midst of life with whom you can "be". It is a life-giving, life-changing, simple, low key yet powerful part of friendship... someone who just simply allows us to "Be".

Existential theologian John McQuarrie speaks of the "letting be" of God. This it seems to me, was the essential nature of Jesus. I hope you enjoy "being" and "letting be", and value it! (Photo: the Church walking group on a winter walk)

Monday, December 8, 2008

"Dangerous minister driver in car park!"

In a split second I could see the headlines, "Minister runs amok in supermarket car park!" I had a horrible experience yesterday. It was my day off and just before lunch we went to the supermarket. As we were going in we noticed two frail women, with walking sticks, waiting by the door in the rain. We did our shopping and came out. They were still there and one looked even more frail. We enquired if everything was OK and she pointed to her car. She had parked her car, but another had come in beside it, leaving about 8 inches between the vehicles. Of course she could not get into the driver's side door, and was not confident that she could drive it out anyway. Well, being the good Samaritan type person that I am (I have a "knight in shining armour" complex according to one friend) I said, "No worries, I will clamber across from the passenger side and drive your car out for you." The poor lady allowed me to do it. In spite of my inflexibility I managed to climb in, over the gear lever and on to the driver's seat with my knees squeezed up between steering wheel and me. (The seat was a way forward... but I can do it, no worries!)

I started the car. It was an automatic so I selected reverse. Now the only thing I can think of that I did wrong was out of habit I gave the engine a bit of a rev, like you do in manual cars before you let out the clutch. I am not sure what happened but in a split second the car seemed to have a mind of its own and shot uncontrollably backwards at a great rate of knots, while I was trying desperately to untangle my foot from accelerator and get it on to the brake. I narrowly missed the car beside it and was racing backwards toward the row of cars behind. I just managed to come to a screeching halt before I hit a car. Every eye in the car park was looking at this "idiot"! I was extremely lucky. It was just good fortune that I missed scrapping the car beside. I was so so close to slamming into the car behind. The mind boggles about what would have happened if some poor unsuspecting shopper was walking behind me! It was indeed a very close shave and could have been a real tragedy. Until she heard the screeching of tyres, my wife just thought, "Oh he's doing that confidently!" little knowing that I had absolutely no control over the car. I was shaken. The poor elderly lady asked, "Oh did you get a fright?" I drove the car forward to a clear park, climbed out and went and hid in my van. She will never accept "help" from any body again!

The lessons learned...
1. Be extra careful and not overconfident when in a strange car.
2. When you see or hear of some "idiot" doing something strange in a car, that you think you would never possibly do... be generous, tolerant and sympathetic, one day that "idiot" could be you!

I went home, got a stubby of beer out of the fridge, and sat dumfounded in a chair sucking on it, still dazed. I am not a big drinker, (never been drunk in my life- I can make a fool of myself without the expense.) I never drink during the day, but somehow it seemed the only response.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

Don't listen to the negatives...

You may have wondered what has been happening with my daughter's house extensions. Well I have not had much of a chance to work on it and they seemed to be doing very well. When we began the project nearly everybody we talked to said, "Don't do your own Gib stopping! It won't look any good and will be heartbreaking." etc. etc. ... doom and gloom merchants. Well daughter and son-in-law looked up books and leaflets on how to do gib stopping and how to finish the ceiling etc etc. They have tackled it slowly and diligently, thinking things through as they went. This afternoon while son-in-law David was painting and daughter (and her mother) were doing tiles in the bathroom I did a few little jobs around the place.... But I looked at the gib stopping and the ceiling and it looks GOOD! I am proud of their tenacity! I admire their courage to tackle the jobs, think them through and learn.

If we spend our lives listening to the people who say, "You can't..." we would never do anything! Heed sound advice but be careful of negative people. They can hold you back and stop you learning, growing and adventuring..

Friday, December 5, 2008

"Constant dripping..."

When I was about 21 years old and decided to change my career path from plumbing, I took a nostalgic bike ride around town with a camera taking photos of all the significant buildings I had worked on as a plumber. I have since lost those, but there was something precious knowing e.g. that the toilets in the Clinical Services building were working because I put pipes in there. I felt proud and a little surprised about the work I had done and the contribution I had made toward the functioning of these buildings. I have crammed a heap into this past week. It has been a week from hell in someways... but it has also been a week in which I have sensed moments of satisfaction.

On Tuesday I met with a woman who is writing an article about our next Habitat for Humanity build. I was asked questions about what we have done in Dunedin. As I reviewed the twelve houses we have built, all the hours of work both behind the scenes and on site since 1995 came to mind. I was part of establishing Habitat, raising funds, gathering volunteers. Have we housed twelve families? Really? When did that happen? I, little old muddling Dave Brown have been a part of THAT? Wow! And yesterday I was part of a meeting with Mega store management, making plans to build the thirteenth house in their car park.

The chairman of the night shelter trust was stuck in Thailand with the unrest there and it became evident that I as deputy chair had to create a report and run the Annual General Meeting. As I looked through old reports and reviewed the year in question, I could not help getting nostalgic. A few years ago there was no night shelter in Dunedin. About four of us who had contact with people likely to need a night shelter had lunch together. Another few lunchtime meetings, then a public meeting and now we have had a night shelter in Dunedin for the last three years. We now employ two staff members and at the AGM we received positive feed back from some people in the community. We have had battles, resignations, ups and downs but it is unfolding and little old, average, muddling Dave Brown has been a part of that!

I have been working toward our twentieth Christmas day community dinner at the church. The phone has been ringing with familiar friends booking in, sometimes catching up. I have been explaining our processes to potential volunteers again and again. It is all happening again. Twenty years of Christmas dinners! Unbelievable! Our first invitations were printed on a blotchy old "Gestetner". I typed them up on an old portable typewriter. Computers were a very rare commodity and very limited in capacity. Cell phones were not around. Twenty years of planning, of phone calls, of meeting people, celebrating with people, and cleaning up. Unbelievable! Yet little old, ex-plumber, slow typing, slow thinking Dave Brown has been a part of that!

We can make a difference if we persist in our muddling! Never doubt the Grace of God! Never doubt that there is a mysterious movement at work among people of good will. I had a college lecturer who tried to teach me Greek. His oft repeated words of encouragement were, "Constant dripping wears away the stone." Yep Clinty, you were right!

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

I did not win...

You may remember that I was embarrassingly nominated for the "Star Community Spirit " award. I said that I would let you know how I did. Well I attended the function last night and was not the winner. (Phew! relief!) They did read out my name and a gave a quick resume of what I did, so I guess I was "shortlisted" at one stage. I must admit there was the little competitive part of me listening to what the winners did and I was in my mind adding up the hours I spent on Habitat sites, doing drop-in etc. and the 20 years I have been doing Christmas Day Dinners and comparing. But basically I sat there terrified that I would be called up the front of this bunch of people. It was indeed humbling to sit amongst such company and to recognise that a great deal of effort is given on a voluntary basis to help our community to be the caring community it is.

My social blooper of the evening went as follows. This young blond lady came up to me, read my name tag, introduced herself, said she was from the "Star" and welcomed me. I dumbly said, "Are you a reporter for the newspaper." "No" she replied, "I am the editor!" I guess I was meant to know who the editor was! She ran the evening. She knew who I was and that my wife had won the award a few years earlier. I had obviously been a topic of conversation.

The other interesting thing about the evening is that they had prepared name tags. Everybody else had just their first name and second name, no title. Mine had "Rev. David Brown". Apart from the fact that I am generally known as "Dave" these days, I hated that it had that "Rev" in front of it! I am me, Dave Brown.... people go funny talking to "Rev's"! or mostly just avoid them.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

"The baby out with the bath water..."

I have read Cathleen Falsani's book, "The God Factor" in which she interviews 32 public figures about their spirituality. I recently read a similar one by an Australian journalist. I found them both interesting and exciting. There were so many times when I found myself saying, "Yeah! Great! Amen to that!" and that was often in response to people who would not be seen dead in a church. In both books there was criticism, hurt and sometimes anger expressed toward the Church and/or Christianity. Many had "outgrown" the religion of their youth. I mix with fire fighters, ambulance personnel and other workers who share similar positions. To them, organised religion has had its day at best, or is a destructive, judgemental and limiting force at worse.

I understand these reactions and in some way identify with them. I had a friend who used to say of so much church activity that it was "Spiritual masturbation." I have sat in church services, in conferences, ministers' association meetings and various church meetings and thought of these words and similar. I have often had the urge, but never the courage, to say "we're wanking" or through gestures demonstrate my frustration and repulsion at the distortion of the way of Jesus that goes on. I tend to absent myself from places where I feel such things more intensely. I struggle with the church! I often hate the whole format and sound of Church services that I run! I am a square peg in a round hole! I long for the church to be a servant movement for good in the community. I long for a church ethos in which people can relax and be true to themselves. I find, (and I know others even more so) that I have to deny myself, my personality, my soul somehow to fit into the structures of the church. I feel more at home sitting around the mess at the fire station than I do talking to the saints at morning tea at church. Some how people are being more "real" in the mess.... blunt...often vulgar... but human! Yet it ought to be the other way around? The gospel ("Good news") should be a relaxant!? It is meant to produce freedom? That's how the early disciples experienced it? It was "grace"? But so often, I and many in these books and people I mix with experience the opposite. It often seems to produce uptight, robotic, sexless, life denying people.

BUT....I can't throw it out! There is a lot of "dirty bath water" in the church that deserves to go down the drain! I suspect most of what the church has become is a distortion of the way of Jesus. But the Church keeps the face of Jesus before the world. Who else does? I cannot help but think that if I left the way of Jesus behind and moved on, I would somehow be "throwing the baby out with the bathwater." I still find Jesus and his spirit opens the door to those things which are sacred and eternal in life. I still find that the call of Jesus on my life makes me more fully human, a better person with a more complete life. He still "expands" me "stretches me" and brings depth to my existence. I feel a certain sadness that so many lovely people that I feel an affinity with (perhaps more than I do with most religious people) seemed to have left behind or discarded something so valuable and precious as Jesus. I do not blame them, I blame the distortion that they have had to endure. I ache for radical reform and change to a more true "Jesus centred spirituality".