Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, February 28, 2009

Community and Sunday night stuff


During our holidays we visited the rural township of Apiti in the North Island. We owned a property there and lived there for a while. It was a sad visit. When we lived there the garage was a bustling centre of activity where cars and farm machinery were fixed and people stopped for a chat. Now it sells fuel and looked empty and closed. There was a general store and like country stores of old you could just about buy ANYTHING there if you looked hard enough. It was no longer standing. The church's path was way overgrown, a sure sign that services had stopped. The Post Office was now a house. We called into the pub and interrupted the proprietor's afternoon by getting him to turn his beer systems on to get us a drink. Worst of all in this empty looking ghost township, our old house, along with its garage, and the sheds, goat sheds and hen houses I had established were all pulled down. The guts seemed to have gone out of this town in the 23 years since we left it. 

Another place we stayed at on holiday was Foxton. On the Saturday we went to a market they held in a local business' yard. It was great. There were people selling arts and crafts, old nic-nacs and secondhand books. There was a vege stall, a sausage sizzle and an under canvas coffee bar. But it was the feeling of the place that impressed us. It was alive with a sense of community. People were greeting each other warmly, catching up on kids and there were hugs smiles and laughter all around. There was a couple with a music set up who took turns at singing. They would say "hi" to passers by as they sang, and "thank you" mid-line in a song if you put a coin in their hat. The guy gave announcements over the microphone about bargains at the market. He was announcing the price of a vegetable at the vege store and spontaneously said, "Shit that's cheap!" We stopped at the canvas cafe and the proprietor chatted for a couple of minutes and invited us into his semi-trailer kitchen. He had a fully functioning commercial kitchen in the back of this truck where he baked bread, buns, scones or whatever. But he treated us like friends and showed us around his pride and joy. We came away feeling that Foxton was a place where it would be good to live. It was alive, friendly and buzzing. 

I am convinced that we are doing the world a great favour when ever we create moments of "community", or spaces where "community" happens..... people enjoying each other's company; people meeting people; laughter; friendship and love developing. I am convinced that the church should not just be a community, but should be in our communities facilitating spaces and places where community is experienced. 

Exercise report

Last Sunday ... a run. Tuesday ... a gym session. Wednesday .... a 2hour church walking group. Thursday ... a gym session and later a run. Friday ... a gym session, Saturday ... a walk up "my Mountain." Tonight ... a run. My friend weighed me when I visited the brewery on Thursday and in the last 2 weeks I have lost 2.5 kg. I have got to the stage of enjoying the runs. This old man is really starting to regain a measure of fitness. :-).... I learned this week that eggs are not as harmful for cholesterol levels as thought. We have hens and I LOVE fresh, golden yoked eggs!

Habitat helper

A man from Hawaii is in town and wants to help a Habitat for Humanity project. I have to spend my day off tomorrow working with him installing a gate at the last Habitat house. I learned tonight that a local bank is keen to get involved in a Habitat project and on Tuesday morning I have been asked to go speak to the staff about Habitat for Humanity. It feels like every time I turn the speed dial down a bit on the treadmill of life, someone steps in and turns it up for me! Oh well, you only live once.

(Photo: Our acre and house at Apiti. Milking goats, hens and their houses in the paddock.)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Goodbye my friend

I have just said goodbye to a friend. This friend is from Alaska and turns up every year for a week or two. He is keen on Habitat for Humanity and arrived early in the week asking what he could do. Well I put him to work doing vents in the base of a house. Yesterday he finished that job and he and I spent time together concreting in a big heavy gate post. I enjoy his friendship. He blows in and we just start off where we left the year before. He just had a cup of coffee with me and heads away now on his way back to Alaska and I won't see him till next year, if all goes well. I don't have a heap of friends so I value the friendships I have.

A quotation says;

"Friendship is the only cement that will ever hold the world together."


"A friend is a person with whom you dare to be yourself."

Good bye Tom... Cya next year.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Two warm fuzzies

Yesterday turned out to be an OK day for me. We had a guy ring the church office to ask how he could make a donation to the church. At lunch time he arrived in overalls. He fished in his pocket and pulled out an old glasses case and opened it. "I have some spare cash lying around and thought you should have it." With that he dropped $100 worth of crumpled notes on my desk. We asked questions about why etc. He said he had read about the Christmas Dinner in the newspaper and must have walked past the church when our drop-in was open. He said, "You do good stuff and I thought I could help." He left saying, "You will be seeing me from time to time." He never gave us his name, where he worked or anything, he just thought we "did good stuff".

I got home sometime after 6p.m. and went to the letter box. There was a card addressed to Rev Dave Brown. Inside the card was a quantity of petrol vouchers. The card read, "To Dave, hope you had a good holiday, thanks for listening!" There was no signature or identifying marks on the card. I have my suspects, I suspect an officer at the fire brigade but there are other possibilities.

Both gifts are appreciated, running such things as drop-in centres, and life in general gets expensive and such help is welcome. But they are worth a whole lot more than their dollar value. In my job often you wonder what the hell you do? Successes are often hard to see and people are free with criticism and express their opinions on everything. (I sometimes wonder why the church isn't booming, there are people of all ages in my church who as far as they are concerned, seem to know a lot about how to run a church!) These gifts say to me, "Sometimes at any rate you are doing the right thing. " They affirm that sometimes at least, I am "doing good stuff", and that affirmation is worth heaps. If you are one of the donors, thanks a lot.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

"Intimate relations"

Related to yesterday's blog about marriage is my annoyance at many Christian understandings of sex and sexuality. I recall when I got married we were gifted a Christian book giving guidance about marriage. If we had followed that our sex life would have been exceedingly boring and we would have given it up in preference for playing snakes and ladders! I was reminded of this book when I was given this quotation from an actual text book not that long ago. This is an actual extract from a sex education school text book for girls, printed in the early '60's in the UK and written by a woman.

"When it comes to the possibility of intimate relations with your husband it is important to remember your marriage vows and in particular your commitment to obey him. If he feels that he needs to sleep immediately then so be it. In all things be led by your husbands wishes; do not pressure him in any way to stimulate intimacy. Should your husband suggest congress then agree humbly all the while being mindful that a man's satisfaction is more important than a woman's. When he reaches his moment of fulfilment a small moan from yourself is encouraging to him and quite sufficient to indicate any enjoyment that you may have had. Should your husband suggest any of the more unusual practices, be obedient and uncomplaining but register any reluctance by remaining silent."

There was more to it but you get the picture. I would love to know what the writer thought of as "unusual practices"! That is similar to the book given to us. Another quotation by Don Schrader reads; "To hear many religious people talk, one would think God created the torso, head, legs and arms, but the devil slapped on the genitals."

I believe sex and sexuality are among some of the most precious gifts of life to be relished, enjoyed and celebrated. I believe there is a place for sensuality, the erotic and plain sexy fun and imaginative variety .... even when you are an old man like me. (In the film "The Fastest Indian" an older Bert Munro had a girl friend over for a night. Unfortunately at some stage he took some sort of heart turn and an ambulance was called. The neighbours gathered and as the ambulance departed, the girlfriend in a dressing gown was being stared at. She said something like, "What's the matter with you? Old men need loving too!" ... I laughed so hard that my wife dug me in the ribs, hoping that there was no one in the theatre that we knew.) I have been disappointed that very few Christian writers tackle this subject in a positive, free and celebratory way. What prompted this blog was that I got side tracked last night on to various Christian sites that mentioned the subject. What a load of morbid, life limiting, "down-with-sex" advice and perspectives were listed off! If they are true, I'm going to hell. (Happily) I should not be surprised by the lack of free writing, because in all my years of ministry I have often been too afraid to say what I really believe about this. Every time I have spoken on the subject, however, I have received phone calls from people saying in effect "thank you for affirming what I secretly believe." and comments suggesting that they felt liberated by the experience. I think the Christian religion has a lot to answer for by giving sexuality such a bad reputation.

Monday, February 23, 2009


I was the celebrant at a wedding on Saturday and have been putting away my notes and posting the paperwork. "...... you have come before God and we your family and friends to make your marriage agreement. Will you love and honour each other as husband and wife for the rest of your lives?"
Quick nervous glance at each other then "We will."
"Now I invite you to join your hands and make your marriage vows."
"I ........ take you ..... to be my lawfully wedded...... in sickness and health, to have and to hold, till death part us." (This couple wanted the traditional vows)

Under my breath the cynical me says.... "Yeah Right!?"

What chances have they? The statistics show 1 in 3 marriages end in divorce! I am aware that of those still in tact many are miserable marriages, sometimes marriages in name only. I am surprised by the number of marriages I encounter where there is little emotional or physical intimacy, and the individuals feel desperately lonely. Often we distract ourselves into endless renovations, busyness of work, booze culture or being besotted by inane hobbies or sporting teams. One Christian writer I read suggested that the marriage vows were OK in an age when we started sexual activity later in life and life span was much shorter. These days he suggested we have 3 phases in life with partners to match.- Early phase when we want to enjoy sex. - Second phase when we want to raise a family. -Third phase when we have more leisure and "grow older". He suggested that the time span is so long it is unrealistic to envisage spending all that time with one partner. A cynical yet realistic woman I passed this by suggested that that was what a man would write. It so happens that older men want to justify swapping "mum" for a younger, prettier, more sexy model.

I want to leave you with three pictures.
(1st Picture) I watched an elderly couple, getting frail walking arm in arm down St. Andrew St. in Dunedin. They stopped by the Op Shop window and looked in. Something caught their eye, they pointed, he put his arm around her and they laughed together. It was obvious that what they had seen had sparked some humorous memory from their journey together. It was probably an "in house" joke. Couples who have journeyed together in friendship gather a whole host of special memories, delightful moments and little jokes. They have a common history that is just so precious in life. Smiling they continued their journey and came to an intersection with cars going in four directions. They hesitated, obviously less confident than younger more agile people. They linked their arms more firmly and looking out for one another, worked their way across the road. I wondered how often in their journey together they had done that. As challenges, sufferings or disappointments had hit them they had metaphorically linked arms more firmly and worked their way through it. Marriages can have passion and romance but they need more than anything, friendship.

(2nd Picture).... a hospital room she, in her 70's is unconscious and dying of cancer. He is gently rubbing her head and telling me of their life together. He told of how they met; the war years; the different houses they lived in; his and her bouts of depression; her encounters with cancer; the arrival of their children; the arts and crafts she did; his career and the activities of their children. As I came away I felt like I had been on sacred ground. Here was the beauty of marriage and the friendship it can provide. Here were two imperfect people, with struggles and difficulties, but because they were "together" they had been able to lead, creative, stable and responsible lives, raising two creative responsible children, overcoming big hurdles by their friendship.

(3rd picture) ... a man married for many years came to me. He told me how he had discovered in a relationship outside of his marriage a warmth and friendship better than he had at home. It was a "clicking" of two personalities and the surprised discovery of acceptance and warmth, even though at this stage they had not "been naughty". What should he do? Should he follow his feelings and enjoy this new relationship? Or should he deny himself this potential happiness and stick faithfully to his marriage vows? With tears in his eyes we talked through the issues. I ached for him in his dilemma. (He chose courageously at that point to give his marriage another go.... because of their common history. But his wife took some convincing that anything was lacking in their relationship.) To build friendship in marriage takes effort, openness, understanding and often discipline.

"..... with the authority vested in me, I now pronounce you husband and wife! You may kiss."
Amidst the applause and whistles of family and friends I said again under my breath... "May God help you!"

(Photo: My sister signs the register at her wedding a few weeks ago.)

Sunday, February 22, 2009


Life seems dull. It has rained for FOUR days here in Dunedin. I walked in the rain on Saturday night. My friend and I got soaked jogging in the rain on Sunday, and the rain has limited my activities on this my day off. I could not do outside stuff so I fiddled with the computer and listened to a U tube talk by Matthew Fox. He talked about thankfulness or gratitude. He said that greed and addictions were the opposite of thankfulness. That when we feel that we have an empty bucket we crave more of "whatever"... money, booze etc etc.  He suggested that emptiness in our soul meant we crave more and implied that thankfulness and gratitude were the antidote. So I thought I would gather thoughts about what I am thankful for today.

  • Friends to walk and run with in the rain.
  • Ability to run an OK wedding service and a Church service over the weekend.
  • Warmth of greetings as I shared at the wedding.
  • A day off!
  • A cup of tea in bed, while reading the morning paper.
  • A friend calling for morning tea.
  • In house jokes and common history with my wife.
  • A warm house and plenty of wood to light the fire.
  • Health enough to walk and run over the weekend.
  • The computer, broadband and internet so that I could listen to speakers like Marcus Borg, Matthew Fox and even old country music songs.
  • Fritters for lunch and chilli sauce.
  • Apple jelly made from copious supplies of our own apples.

That will do. I'll add a few photos to brighten your day. To fix your addictions and greed take a dose of gratitude. That old hymn goes... "Count your blessings."

Photos top to bottom.... thankfulness for the world of nature.

  1. Flowers on the slopes of Mt Ruapehu
  2. Flowers beside the track at Table Top, a way above Otaki Forks.
  3. One of our old apple trees, this year laden with apples (More apple jelly- Have you ever had apple jelly with ice cream? Out of this world!)
  4. Red hot pokers out our kitchen window.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sunday burble....

Hours of work

For interest I have been keeping a tote of the hours I have worked... From Tuesday morning to Sunday lunch time it came to 60 hours for the week. There were times when I wondered if I would cope or get things done on time but I did! I don't think I made a muck up of anything. My first two weeks back at work have been around 60 hours. I wonder if it will improve?

Exercise report

I am still trying to exercise regularly. Here is last weeks report. I ran last Saturday and Sunday. I ran on Tuesday and Wednesday. I went to the gym on Thursday morning. I walked quickly for three and a quarter hours at the relay for life. I am going to run soon. (In the rain!) When I ran on Wednesday I had times when I felt good. I hope I am starting to get fit again. 

People are good

Workplace support (Chaplaincy) entered a team in the Relay for life. This is a fundraiser for the Cancer Society. Walkers walk around a track for 24 hours with each team carrying a banner and having to have one person on the track all of the time. The teams are sponsored and money raised given to the cancer society who support those suffering cancer. It has rained non-stop in Dunedin since Friday! They shortened the relay to a 12 hour stint. It was damp and cool but there were still hundreds of people, rugged up in all sorts of attires, laughing, chatting and enjoying the event, happy to raise money for the cause. After my Saturday wedding I joined them and always find myself encouraged by the atmosphere of such events. There may be all sorts of bad news about humanity, but there is a lot of good. I fell into step next to a woman I know, she is the daughter of a man I had in chaplaincy. We had chatted for a few minutes and she was asking about Christmas Dinner and offering to work at our next Christmas Dinner, wanting to do stuff for people. It was a buzz being among such people. 

Thursday, February 19, 2009

In the middle of one of those days!

Today has been a day when things could have been easier. I spent much of the morning listening to a sad, angry bereaved friend...I think I had to be there for her but I had so much else I needed to be doing. I had to record a radio service and had not done enough preparation for it. I have made it though and am just "taking a moment" before our Friday night drop-in centre starts up. By the time I get home tonight I will have worked 13hours non-stop. 47 for the week so far. Tomorrow a wedding to lead, the relay for life at night maybe early morning, then Sunday responsibilities. People say to me, "You ministers only work on Sundays don't you?" Not this one.

I will be walking in the Relay for Life fundraising event with a few people from Workplace Support (Industrial chaplaincy) Supporters can donate by going to www.cancerotagosouth.org.nz They do make some suggested amounts but that can be adjusted. Click on "Relay for Life Donation" link down the left side of the page and select "Dunedin" Select the "Workplace Support" team to make your donation. We will have someone walking the track for the full 24 hours.

Wish me luck for a very full weekend.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"Healer, heal yourself"

I was reading on line about M Scott Peck. I have enjoyed his books... his earlier books in particular. I found that he took things like "grace" "Love" and "growth" and made sense out of them. I was disappointed in one of his later books to read his "confession" that he had had affairs, because it seemed inconsistent with his "discipline" and "delayed gratification" approach to growth and life.

Last night I read an article that in a sense exposed him even more. He was addicted to gin and smoking (well he had admitted that in one of his books...but not to the extent that this article seemed to suggest) His wife of 43 years walked out and he was estranged from some of his children. He had a new wife. (he is now dead.)

It was a strange feeling. His writings make so much sense and they had excited me and still help me understand life. But this man I had thought had it all together was in a bit of a mess in his private life! Even in his own inner life. He did things I would disagree with which seemed contrary to his writings. I guess I was aware of them, and of the possibility and I did not always agree with some of his stuff, but the reminder made me feel disappointed, let down and a bit betrayed.

But this has often happened to me. I recall one sermon I preached, I got books out of my library written by "saints of God" who had really helped me. At important times in my journey each of these writers had made a significant contribution to my life and directions. But each writer ended up "falling from Grace" in the church scene by having an affair or affairs. When you look through the Bible, some of the great men of God were no saints. Abraham, Jacob, David, Solomon, all had pretty shady things in their lives. I am aware too, that if you knew all about me, and my "secret thoughts" you would probably not read this blog. You may even say, "How can he be a minister?"

It says something about the fallibility of us all but also something about our greatness. We, who are imperfect people, can still make a great contribution, even though we are not saints. We are all travellers on the journey of life, rising and falling, achieving and stumbling, growing and depleting but we can learn from each other's journey. I believe it makes forgiveness and tolerance important. It does not condone destructive behaviour, but it is the recognition that none of us is perfect, we all have bad and good within us. Again, "We are pilgrims on a journey, we are kindred on the road, we are here to help each other, walk the mile and bear the load."

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Why I like blogging.

At the end of last year my wife and I went out for an expensive meal. It was a gift to us, and we were told to make it something special. Even though I was not paying for the meal, I was aware of what it cost. You can bet that each mouthful of it was eaten slowly and tasted at least twice! One of the reasons I like walking in the bush is that you can allow your mind and emotions to catch up on life and taste life again. This is why I like blogging. You get to chew on life, like a cow chewing its cud, you get to think through your experiences, make connections, appreciate stuff again and taste it all anew. It matters not whether people read it, agree with it or enjoy it. I take a turn at leading a radio service every now and then. I asked the guy recording us, "Who listens to it anyway?" His response was, "It is not important who or how many listen, it is just important that you are doing it." That's what I feel about blogging... it is good for me. Robert Muller, the ex-United Nations guy has some comments on writing that illustrate this point.

"To write is to live twice."

"Hidden wisdom is no good. Every wise person must publish his wisdom through speaking, writing, action, story telling at every stage of life." (I would add that most have some wisdom to share)

"To write can be a form of praying, a way of thanking God for the magnificent gift of life."

"Write in order to know yourself.
Write to help your human brothers and sisters
Write to give happiness to others."

I am pleased I started blogging. I enjoy the outlet. Thanks for reading.

Monday, February 16, 2009

My old van.

With the advent of a new van in my life I thought I should tell you about my old van. It will always be special to me.

It was June 2001. I had been chaplain for the fire service in Dunedin since 1994. In that time they had had a lot of industrial unrest. I had been a busy boy and people often just let off steam to me. I used to drive an old Mazda Bongo deisel van but it got so rusty that it did not get a warrant of fitness. I was confined to using a car. I do a lot of stuff for Habitat for Humanity and other projects so I was missing my van incredibly. Driving out of the firestation yard once I noticed a nice little van in a garage there and coveted it. "Gee that would be handy!" I said to myself.

The Sunday after that I came in from my office on to the church platform to take the service and I noticed four firemen, most of whom I knew never frequented church, sitting in one of the back rows. They said to me after, "Your facial expression said, 'What the f*** are they doing there?'" At the end of the service we have announcements and one of the firemen came forward and addressed the congregation. He said that they had had to put up with a grumpy chaplain since he had lost his van. They had appreciated me as chaplain so they had something for me outside. They led the congregation out to the footpath where there were more firemen waiting along with some brewery people. There on the footpath was the little white Townace van I had coveted. They presented me with it. They had taken up a collection and bought this van. Tidied it up, fixed the brakes and they gave it to me. I was absolutely blown away. For years afterward I would be driving the van and still find myself amazed at this gesture. One of them said something very significant. "This gift is from your flock outside of the church."

Eight years later that van has done a power of work and is a bit knocked around. The motor is damaged and economically it is not worth fixing. I have bought a new one but I felt a tinge of sadness this morning, walking past the old one, that was such a special gift, to drive my new one.

Life is difficult ... but great!

Sometime during the night and day today a penny dropped in my mind. On Sunday's post I sounded really gloomy saying "life is difficult". We encounter a whole series of challenges and difficulties in life. It sounds pessimistic, but it need not be. A week ago I told of an extremely difficult day spent tramping, but said that it was one of the highlights of my holidays. The same is true of life. Life is a challenge! We are called to be the best we can be in all circumstances, and that makes for a challenging journey. We are mortal... there will come a time when David Brown will be no more! BUT... because life is difficult and mortal we value so much of what we experience. Friendships and family are deeply important. Experiences are tasted and relished. Achievements and personal growth are special. Just like my day tramping, because the journey of life is difficult, we can appreciate its richness, depth and pleasure.

I still feel for people going through the grief and pain of life though. It is a reminder to relish every day. (2 posts in one day! I'm addicted!)

Muller on Old Age.

During my holidays I read a book purchased in a secondhand book store (where else?) by a Robert Muller. He was Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations and the book "A Planet of Hope" has short paragraphs on a whole lot of subjects. Here are a few on growing older.

"No person is ever completely self-realized or fulfilled.
We learn and enrich ourselves until we die.
We gain new capacities and we lose old ones.
The art of living has no end.
It is too rich to be exhausted by a single life".

"There is no downward trend in life.
Advanced age is as precious as any other.
It is accumulated spirit, the culmination of process,
an apotheosis of the miracle of life.
In so many civilizations the elders are the most
respected and honoured persons:
they are the slowly distilled essence of life."

"Even and especially during old age, life can pursue its upward course thanks to a passion, and that passion can range over an immense gamut of reality: from the infinitely large (e.g. God) to the infinitely small (e.g. a hobby). The object is unimportant - only the drive for life, the will for life, the passion for what one is doing counts."

"My physical body may be less efficient and less beautiful in old age. But God has given me a vast compensation; my mind is richer, my experience is wealthier, my soul is broader, my wisdom is at a peak. I am so happy with old age that contrary to Faust, I would not wish to return to my youthful ignorance." (Oh well, some of us never did look beautiful in the first place.)

"Better an old man with an old heart that needs the help of a pacemaker than a young man without a heart."

I am "warmed" and heartened by these sayings. There is hope for me yet! I know that they are true. I hope I remember them when I get old. :-)
(Photo: A van I purchased today... my old one was passed its used by date and I find a van so useful. I still have work to do! :-))

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Life sucks sometimes....

To use an old phrase, "My heart is heavy." I have had several reminders that life is tough this week. A friend of mine kissed goodbye to her partner in the morning. They had had a good time with visiting family. But later that day a policeman visited her work and told her that her loved partner had collapsed and died at the wheel of his car. She had found love with him... but now he was gone at the age of 54. I ached for her as she told me of it on the phone. This morning I talked with a man whose wife is sinking ever more deeply into Alzheimer's. He was in tears as he told me that sometimes she doesn't remember his name or other family members' names. I ached for him. I talked with another man who used to be a talented singer, an able sportsman and a live wire businessman in town here, but he is slowly but surely "losing it". I could go on about the various sad situations I have encountered in this my first week back at work. I am aware too that I find it so much harder going for a run than I used to find. That feeling of loping along enjoying the exercise and the whole sensation is not just happening in my recent attempts to get fit. It is more a determined plod, "glad its over with" feeling. I was annoyed that my son, who seldom exercises could climb a hill without getting breathless and I was puffing and panting. With my blood pressure medication my ankles swell and doctor's visits happen more regularly. I am, however I kid myself otherwise, getting older and anything I do can only slow the decline in my abilities. It is true that sometimes "life sucks"! I recall one worker in a chaplaincy when going through a hard time said, "Life's a shit sandwich! You're born, you die and in between is just a load of shit!"

M.Scott Peck starts his book "The road less travelled" with these words.
"Life is difficult.
This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it."

A little later he goes on...
"Life is a series of problems. Do we want to moan about them or solve them? Do we want to teach our children to solve them?
Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life's problems."

I guess I want to say three things...
(a) A simplistic idea of God who protects and makes life a bed of roses does not hold water for this real world. I believe in the sacred presence in the midst of life, but that is not one who is all of the time making life easy or fair for His people. He is present in and through us in the midst of the crap, but simplistic concepts of God as our personal gene making everything right for us do not stand up.

(b) Because life is difficult it is all the more important that we love one another. Even in the hard times of life, there can be a deep richness in the strength of friendship and love. Life can be full of depth and meaning, not because it is easy, but because in the shit, we discover solidarity with loved friends and family. This discovery can be worth more than all the gold in the universe.It is true that,
"We are pilgrims on a journey
We are kindred on the road
We are here to help each other
Walk the mile and bear the load."

(c) It is deeply meaningful to keep hearing Jesus' call to love. In the midst of the difficult times, even in death, we will find dignity, meaning and significance when we seek to continue to heed Jesus' call to be as loving, as constructive and as caring as we can be. I have read and re-read Victor Frankl's little book about his Logotherapy.... "Man's search for meaning". In the midst of his terrible experiences of the concentration camp, amongst death, oppression and the worst abuse known, he observed there were those who kept an inner freedom and dignity. They were those who clung to love and still saw themselves as having a task to do. I believe this to be true, but I have to admit that I have had a very rosy and easy life, and have not really been tested. I would hope that come what may I will not lose that call of Jesus on my life. I believe this is part of the discipline M. Scott Peck writes of.

I'm off for a run with a friend. I will enjoy the friendship but the running at the moment is like life... difficult.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Those immigrants...

I was driving four of our Friday night Drop-in Centre clients home last night. They were pontificating on all sorts of subjects. It is interesting that many of these folk who are not very "successful" in life come across so belligerent and "know all" like. I think they do it to hide their insecurity or to say, "At least I am not as bad as those guys!" Anyway one started asking me about my holiday in the North Island. I told them where I travelled. They asked, "Did you go to Auckland?" I said "no" but they continued, "How dark is it in Auckland?" "What do you mean?" I asked. "There's a dark night happening in Auckland." "The place is over run by P I's (pacific Island People) Asians and Indians! They stuffed up their own country, now they are taking over ours!" I did NOT reply. I considered stopping the car and telling them to walk. I thought it was useless to getting into an argument, but I was fuming. They noticed the silence, and one said, "There's a funny silence?" I think they got the message.

I hear such racist comments nearly every day at chaplaincies or drop in centre. I think back to when my forebears came to NZ. There were no jobs, over crowding and lots of poverty in the United Kingdom. Scots, English, Welsh, Irish, and later others all decided to try for a better life in NZ. I could imagine Maori validly saying, "They stuffed up their own country now they are taking over ours!"

Why are we so racist? When will we learn to be citizens of the world? When will we grow up and mature? We ARE really all brothers and sisters!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Valentines day...

Some of my fire fighters were asking me about the origin of Valentines Day. In a devotional booklet I have this paragraph...
"The tradition of Valentine's Day began several centuries ago when Valentine was imprisoned and facing execution. During his stay in prison he was befriended by the king's niece. On the eve of his execution he sent a note to her, thanking her for her friendship. Since then the tradition of sending Valentines has become a part of our romantic tradition."

Now you know... whether its right or not I cannot verify. About friendship Harold Kushner writes, "We find ourselves drawn to people for reasons we can't explain. But we need friendship and affection as much as we need food and air, and we identify certain people as able to meet that need." He goes on, "One of the saddest commentaries on American life is that we have made it so hard for men to have male friends. We have done such a great job of teaching men that all other men are potential rivals or customers, and that they should never expose their vulnerability to another man." He suggests that men have "buddies" but not intimate friendships. I suspect this is true of NZ males. Have a great valentines day!

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

"The Devil Wears Prada" issues

While on holiday I watched three TV films that touched on the same themes. "The Devil wears Prada", "Evan Almighty" (A bit way "out there"??) and another one about some guy who had a universal remote to control life. (All films I would not usually watch but at my age even on summer holidays on some nights you need to do something else!)"The Devil wears Prada" is about a young woman who gets swept up in her work for a fashion magazine and her friendships, priorities and principles begin to suffer because of her busyness. In both of the other "over the top" films the main character deals with issues of work verses family time/life etc. It is interesting that in these three very different films the same issues seem to be highlighted. All the main characters had to struggle with work verses family/relationships/"what's important?" issues. This is such an issue for our modern western lifestyle. Do we work to live, or live to work? The whole life/work balance is so difficult.

I was facilitating a "Family Life" group in a church in the Nelson area once. As this issue was raised a man and his wife, with tears in their eyes told their story with courageous honesty. They had a farm but told how out of that another business had evolved and just kept getting bigger and busier. In the end, he said, he was forced to realise that he had grown apart from his wife, had lost connection with his kids and they were just existing together in a mad lifestyle in the same house. One weekend when things got really bad they stopped and re thought their life, and made necessary changes. But their message was, "It can sneak up on you and you get into it without even knowing!" I recall visiting a very successful farmer, then in his late sixties in the north of the North Island. He had added farm to farm and was well off and well known in the church and the community. Sitting around his kitchen table with his wife he was looking back on his life and said, "What have I done? All I have done is that I have been good at growing grass for cattle to eat!" He paused and put his arm around his wife who had watery eyes, "I have been a useless husband, an absent father and not very good at doing the things Jesus talked about... when it all boils down all I have really done with my life is grown grass!..full stop!"

I have struggled with the same issues all my life. Ministry is such a "righteous" profession that you can easily justify your busyness. We visited Palmerston North recently and were recalling my lifestyle there. Each week I had 9 "presentations" to prepare for. ... 2 Sunday services, Bible in schools class, mid-week bible study session, Sunday afternoon Youth group session, and regularly about 3 or 4 Girls Brigade and Boys brigade devotions or "Christian Education" sessions to present. I was heavily involved in three ecumenical committees and a national committee for our denomination. There seemed to be endless counselling "clients", weddings, funerals and extras to add to the mix. There were some times when I would go three or four weeks without a night at home! Since then sometimes life has been easier, but even these days, in the normal course of events, I seldom have an evening meal at home... it is often a rushed meal at the church before rushing off to some event, meeting or session. My children grew up ever so quickly and all the things I wanted to do with them only happened spasmodically. I have friends who I know only as acquaintances because I have not made the time to keep up the friendship. Life soon passes and real living can go down the drain. I do believe that it is good for kids to grow up knowing that mum and dad have wider concerns and purposes in life than just them, but there is a balance. It is sooo easy for the important to get shunted out of life by the urgent. "The Devil wears Prada" reminded me of that.(The chapel we built while I was at Palmerston North Church.)

Monday, February 9, 2009

Holiday highlight.... why?

One of the highlights of my holiday was one of the most exhausting days I have had for a while. We were staying at a place called Foxton and I made arrangements with my thirty-something year old son to go for a day tramp up Otaki Gorge area. He had to drive north, I had to drive south to meet him.

We tramped up to an area called Table Top, and on the way we had lunch at "Field Hut". It was a damp, drisly day as we walked up hill for 2 hours twenty minutes to the hut. After eating lunch the tramp continued up hill to an area in the mist we declared must have been "Table Top" and turned around and walked down. In all we must have walked for over five hours. The track was steep and difficult. We were clambering over rocks, squeezing through rutted areas and stepping up and over tree roots. There were times when I looked at the track ahead and thought, "How much more of this can I take?". I was begging for flat ground. My quads were burning. My son was passing comments that we were going slow.... because of me! I told him that I would come back and haunt him when he was sixty! We encountered a group coming down and I asked in desperation, "How long is it to the hut?". "We've been going about an hour", they replied. I hope they did not see in my face what I was thinking! It was not a nice word! As we returned to the car and were walking along flat ground toward the swing bridge, I could feel my hands numbing up, a sign that I was dehydrated. I had experienced similar sensations at the end of long runs. My legs were tired. My feet ached. I collapsed in our car and declared to my wife, "I need liquid!". But it was a great day! I loved it! Why? Why do we humans love pushing ourselves to the brink and then say "That was great!"? I have never worked that out, but I love doing it in all sorts of ways.

I loved the day because it was six hours of talking with my son. That is always special. But I loved it because it was hard. When we were choosing where we would tramp I had chosen a walk nearer Wellington so that my son did not have to drive as far. It was also an easier, well trodden walk. "No" my son said, "We want to do something with a bit of grunt to it!" and I was secretly pleased. Back near the van we saw a notice that said something like, "Field Hut- 31/2 - 4hrs". We were NOT going slow to do it in 2hrs 20 mins.!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A quote from my holiday reading...

I have enjoyed time to read during my holidays. Here is one quote that rang bells with me. "When I was young, I admired clever people. As I grew old, I came to admire kind people." (Abraham Joshua Heschel)

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Bell Birds and Tuis

I have been on holiday in the North Island. On the slopes of Mt Ruapehu I came across the native Mistletoe and its story. The Mistletoe has some deep read flowers on it. But the flowers do not bloom by themselves. They develop wrapped up in green coverings. For the flowers to bloom it requires the intervention of either a Bellbird or a Tui. The Bellbirds and the Tuis are the only birds interested in the nectar in the flowers. As they search for the nectar they unwrap the green covering, and release the flowers to open up and bloom and in turn become pollinated. If no Tui or Bellbird comes along the flowers remain locked in their covering. Eventually they fall to the ground without blooming and without being productive. No Bellbirds, no Tui... no deep red flowers!

I got to thinking that we are meant to be the Bellbird or the Tui for the people around us. We are to help each other bloom and become productive! There are people who depend on us to open them up and help facilitate their "blooming". If we don't do it then they may never bloom. I have been doing a lot of "people watching" during my holidays. I think there are a lot of people unfortunately, who never have enough people to help them bloom. There are many in our communities who return to the ground without blooming and therefore unable to be productive. In marriages, families, through friendships, churches and groups we are to be the "tui's" and the "Bellbirds" who help each other bloom.

Jesus did it for people. He was involved with such people as impulsive Simon Peter, Matthew the Tax Collector, Zaccheaus the other hated tax collector, Mary Magdalene, Thomas the doubter and many more. These people were enabled to bloom after their encounters with Jesus. There are some of us whose vocation and involvement with people have a special calling to do this for people. If we don't do it, they could live their lives without blooming! What a privilege! What a responsibility!