Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, March 29, 2009

It's only a game!

What is it with sport? I don't get it? I was only ever average at sport. I am too un-coordinated to be good a ball games ... but I enjoy playing. I still play a reasonable game of table tennis and can beat all comers at the drop-in centre (I have discovered there that often the good players are ex-prisoners - plenty of practice.) I enjoyed playing cricket as a school boy, soccer, rugby when I was younger, and really enjoyed rowing. I coached school boy cricket and learned more about the game in those 7 years than the boys in the team did. I enjoy my running and quite enjoy secretly competing at static rowing at the gym. (There's this guy who rows beside me who keeps track on my meter reading as we row ... and of course this old twit tries to impress!)  But ultimately sport is just a game!

We have "Frank" who plays pool at the drop-in. If you are playing him and are lining up a shot and accidentally tap the ball.. he hits the roof... "That's a double hit? It's an illegal shot!" He growls at people who get in his way, he's a sore loser, (I beat him consistently the other night... he was getting so agitated.) and he has been known to threaten people with his pool cue or throw his pool cue down in disgust and anger. It's only a game! For Pete's sake!

I was out at dinner with a group of people the other night. Someone had access to the latest rugby score, the local Highlanders team playing... somebody... I don't know who. As they looked like they were winning the game a woman at our table got more and more delighted. "They are winning!" she kept repeating with glee! When they won you would have thought she won the game personally. Or had won lotto even. What's with that? Its only a game! Get a life!

If you look at the news headlines on the yahoo site at any given time, a big proportion of them have to do with sport or sport stars. Big woop?? 

Listening to sport commentators, they speak so earnestly about selections, form and performances that you would think the future of the world depended on the sporting outcomes. Again I keep saying, "Get real... its only a game!" We pay our sports stars millions, and our carers of elderly or people with disabilities a pittance. 

I really don't get it? Now they want to build a local stadium that is touted as an "all purpose" facility (small print.... "so long as you are playing rugby") for $200 million dollars! A past mayor has called it a "temple to rugby". That's the way I feel. I don't get this worship of sport! It is a way out of perspective in our world. Often some of our sports stars have lifestyles and attitudes that are so aggressive and destructive and we are reinforcing those in our young people by our approval of them! 

I enjoy sport, but am appalled at the place it has in our society! Especially since most of us sit in our lounge chairs and watch, when we would be better off getting off our bums and playing something at our level ourselves.

Am I missing something? I don't get it?

Sunday's report.... Lonely

Exercise this week.

Last Sunday a small run, Monday 9.5k run, Tuesday Gym session, Wednesday Gym, hilly walking group dawdle, 6.5k run., Friday gym session, Saturday 9.5k Run. ... Exercise on 6 out of 7 days.... pretty good. My weight went down 2kg in two weeks.... but I am still not loping along feeling good.

How would I cope?

This past week I talked to a man in his mid forties with a young family who faces an uncertain future because of cancer. My heart goes out to him, and my admiration as we talked. He was honest and open about his feelings but still courageous. I often wonder how I would cope in a similar situation. It would be easier for me at my stage of life. My family are all adults and independent, I am coming toward the end of my working life or career, and I have had a pretty good innings.... 60 years with pretty good health and fitness. I could not really complain, but even so I wonder how I would cope? Life is not always fair.

Reading.... "Help! I feel lonely!"

I am enjoying a small book by Delwin Brown called "What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?" I recall a country song called, "I was country when country wasn't cool." Well that's the feeling I had as I read this book. Progressive Christianity is a growing movement within the church, that is starting to identify itself and express itself in clearer ways. As I read this book I wanted to say "I have been a 'Progressive Christian' before Progressive Christians were named as such." I found his thinking to be in line with so much of mine. I keep wanting a clearer writing style, but I suspect that mystery and a lack of over simplification is the nature of "Progressive Christianity".

Here is a paragraph that got me thinking. He is starting to write about the Church and its purpose. He states this.... 

"... we 'tend' (that's an understatement!) to become like those with whom we most consistently and closely associate, and we are sustained in those patterns by the continuing association. Or, to put the point more cryptically, we 'are' those with whom we associate."

He goes on to spell that out a little more. It had me asking, "With whom do I associate?" I associate with church people, but I find myself not really identifying with them. Somehow I find few there really "on my wave length". I associate with drop-in centre people. I enjoy their company, converse and play games with them, but again they are not people I identify with. I spend time with emergency workers, but also they do not hold common beliefs.  I find few who I would say I would like to "become them". There are one or two in my community involvements and chaplaincy colleagues who I guess I "ring bells" with. On stewing on these lines, however, I find I lack in my life this sense of belonging to a community that affirms me and sustains me. I guess I often feel isolated from fellow travellers with the same thoughts and feelings. That is sad and does make the journey tougher, but I can't go backwards and conform.  I have moved on.  

Photo: Alone on a half-marathon

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Oh for bare patches on lawns...

Walking with the church walking group on Wednesday we passed a house where one of the older women had raised her family. She was ecstatic. She pointed out whose room was whose. She showed me where the kids made huts, where they played cowboys and Indians and told stories about what her five kids got up to around the section. All with a wistful smile on her face. "Those were happy days" she said, "Busy- but we had a great life here."

I was involved in such nostalgic thinking myself over the weekend. At a fire station last Friday I watched a bit of the cricket test - a rare pleasure for me these days. It took me back to playing cricket with my kids, coaching school boy cricket and those fun days. Life in a family is messy isn't it?

We used to play cricket on the front lawn. The pitch was so short the bowler had an advantage. We would go crashing through the hedge to field balls and the hedge would get wrecked. There was no grass growing at both the bowler's crease and the batsman's crease, only bare patches of mud. Big scratches across the lawn marked both creases. We broke a window once, but it was so much fun. Often there was an evening game before and after tea. In time the kids got to be better than me, much more coordinated.

At another time my wife and I went away for a weekend to conduct a wedding, leaving our daughter in charge. When we came home there was erected in the middle of the back lawn a skateboard ramp in all its glory. The boys had done a great job. Phil had used tech drawing skills, got into my nails, wood and tools and made this great looking contraption. I did not know whether to weep or jump for joy at their creativity. My saw was blunt, my nails were gone, a hammer was broken but they had fun.

When we first moved there the boys enjoyed the bush up the back. Phil borrowed a book from the library on being a "frontiersman" - how to survive, trap animals etc. They busied themselves in the bush after school. One day Dan came screaming out of the bush, "Dad! Dad! Phil's caught a possum!" One of his clever traps had worked and I discovered this possum under a bush with a noose around its neck going ballistic. I had to find some way to set him free without losing half an arm!

There were underground huts, more skateboard ramps, precious things brought home from the local tip and my tools were forever being lost and left out.

There was no sitting around reading the paper in the mornings. Lunches to cut and kids to hurry out to the van to deliver to school. There were seven seasons of coaching school boy cricket on Saturday mornings. I had an old van with bus seats in the back and most of the team came in that. I threatened to sing to them on the way home if they lost the game!

Now the lawn has no bare patches. The bat and wickets sit unused in a closet. There is no skateboard ramp construction. My tools are safe in the workshop and I get time to rip into things I have a passion about.

But I wish there were those bare patches on the lawn again. I was busy trying to be a good minister and those days rushed by in a blur. I was too busy to really appreciate those family days. The children grew and I did not keep up with all their changes. The kids became adults and are now all over NZ and for a time some were in the USA, Poland and Scotland. Now I long for rusty lost tools, bare patches in lawns and noise and mess. A chance to be a real father, a better one this time.....And a fun game of cricket with all its shouting, diving and mess. (Photo: The family when we were all younger.)

Monday, March 23, 2009

A "square peg" person....

I just changed my bio on mybloglog. In it I had said that I was a "liberal" follower of Jesus. Well I am not sure I fit that category, though much of my intellectual thinking is resourced by theologically liberal thinkers. But where on earth do I fit? I don't think I fit any of the categories? I hear more and more about a new category named "progressive Christians". May be that's me? But no one seems to come up with exactly the slant I have or the priorities I have. Here is one thing I feel is an important recognition.

It's in the "doing" that the truth is known....
Because we come from western background and Greek philosophical thinking we tend to try to analyse, intellectualise and dogmatise truth. We think it must be able to be written, dissected and defined in language. But what if there are important aspects of truth that are "known" in different ways?

When I was courting my wife, she asked me once "Do you love me?" We were sitting in a bus stop. I replied, "Define 'love' and I will answer you." Well she attempted to and I debunked every definition she came up with until she was nearly in tears and "we" nearly never happened. How do you "know" love?

In the Bible it is stated that Adam "knew" Eve, and we all know that that did not mean he had an intellectual dissertation about her. He made love to her... its a different way of "knowing". In the New Testament this experiential style of knowing is referred to when Jesus talked about "this is eternal life, that you 'know' me..." and in the Greek there are a couple of passages in John and again in Ephesians that correctly translated should be "truthing it in love". They tend to be translated into English weakly as something like "telling the truth in love" ... which really is a different thing. They point to a different way of "knowing" than western analytical thinking.

A story is told about a great dancer who performed a dance on stage. A reporter came up to her afterward and asked her what the dance meant. She replied, "If I could explain what it meant in words I would not have bothered dancing it!" Again a different way of "knowing".

I find myself getting frustrated with the various Christian writers from whatever part of the theological spectrum. I find myself reading books and saying to myself, "Yes that sounds great and scholarly, but that's not where its at!" I have bookshelves of books that one day I will throw out, because they now seem irrelevant to me. I believe important truths about life, about Jesus and the sacred are discovered and "known" in the "doing". In John's gospel the writer has Jesus say,
"They who have my commandments and keep them are those who love me;and those who love me will be loved by my father, and I will love them and reveal myself to them."
And a little later;
"Those who love me will keep my word, and my father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them."

John's concept of "believe" involves "doing," sharing the love of God. Some how in the "doing" the reality of the sacred presence is known. I guess that rings bells for me in my experience. It is when I have decided to step out and love as Jesus loved, that there has come into my life a sense that I am part of an eternal flow of life, that I am in fact a co-creator with the divine or that the partnership with or participation in Jesus has become real, and meaningful.

This sort of "knowing" has become a big part of my experience and while I enjoy reading theologians, philosophy and analyses this alternative style of "knowing" leaves that discussion and study for dead. It is real, relevant and empowers. The "faith" becomes not dogma, nor mental assent nor mystical believing but an internal force and passion... John's Jesus talks about "a spring which will provide him with living water, and give him eternal life."? That is the experience in this type of knowing!

I am a square peg in a round hole, and cannot find a place to fit because there do not seem to be many writers whether "liberal", "conservative" , "pentecostal", "evangelical", "progressive christian" or whatever other label, who seem to give due recognition to this type of "knowing". Yet in my experience it is so real and in line with what I read of Jesus. Words, study and even worship are weak, easy, off the hook alternatives to the reality. But the reality of attempting a loving lifestyle brings a "deep, real and lasting high sense of connection" that defies description. I guess "incarnational"- as in attempting to make real the truth in life, is the label I would put on me.

I kind of suspect many will read this and say, "Duh! What's he on about?" - Perhaps I should not have bothered attempting to write about it.... "If I could explain it in words I would not bother living it". After all the ultimate divine communication was not a book, philosophy or dissertation, but a life lived - Jesus of Nazareth.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Sunday night musings....


Here are a couple of jottings that I have in my note book of bit's and peices... they relate to recent postings.

I expect to pass through this world but once

Any good thing therefore

that I can do,

or any kindness that I can show to any fellow creature

let me do it now,

let me not defer or neglect it

for I shall not pass this way again.


There are two things

The ACTUAL and the IDEAL.

To be mature is to see the ideal

and to live with the actual.

To fail is to accept the actual

and reject the ideal

and to accept only that which is ideal 

and refuse the actual

is to be immature.

Do not reject the ideal

because you see the actual.

Maturity is to live with the actual

but hold on to the ideal.

- Derek Prince

Second... Love Hurts

I have shared with various people in the past week who are feeling some of the pains of life. Life is not going according to plan. I find that there is a big part of me which aches for these people.. I am sad because of their pain. I guess that's why Jesus wept over Jerusalem. Loving people hurts, you feel something of their pain and sometimes feel helpless, unable to do or say anything that will make it any easier for them.

Third..... Exercise report

I am still working on my fitness. Last week's report reads like this... Sunday>small run. Monday>45k bike ride. Tuesday>5.5k run. Wednesday>10k run. Thursday>Gym session. Friday>just a long session of Table Tennis at the Drop-in. Saturday> Lazy day.. nothing.. Tonight small run. ... I think I will be able to do a half marathon in July!!!? Watch this space.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I have been stewing on this concept.- "Connectedness"

What would it mean if we lived by two simple truths...
  1. We are connected to each other throughout the world. We are in essence brothers and sisters.
  2. We are connected to the planet... we are like cells in our body, a living part of this great big organism we call planet earth.
The implications of these two statements are profound. I will be exploring this in my own thinking. I have a couple of note books in which I write quotations that appeal. Here are some on this theme.

"Human beings are like parts of a body
created from the same essence.
When one part is hurt and in pain,
the others cannot remain in peace and be quiet.
If the misery of others leaves you
indifferent and with no feelings of sorrow
You cannot be called a human being!"
(I don't know who wrote that... I think it was Dag Hammarskjold)

I was studying Maori Culture and came across these lines in an article called "My Maoriness".

"The people from my own generation
I regard as brothers and sisters,
and I also regard their children
as sons and daughters.
I have extended the philosophy
of that community to include other people.
If I am able to make people feel
warm, content, and important with few material props,
then I know I am getting closer to attaining
the qualities that are important in human relationships."
- by Rose Pere

I once had a man I was helping and supporting write me a very critical and hate filled letter. I agonised over what to reply. In my response I apologised to him if I had hurt him and explained my position to him. As part of it I laid out some important truths I believe.

"It's simple really...
... we are invited to be partners with a loving creative God....
we all belong together."

I also said...

"... nobody is perfect, I just try to help people to be the best that they can be..."

The letter worked because he was soon back in touch with me and remained in touch until he died. I know life is complicated, but I tend to think that the basic guidelines and directions are very simple truths that when worked out and applied can have incredible profound impacts on life and relationships.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Why do the good?

I was riding in the back of a fire truck the other day and since the "padre" was riding with them the guys were jokingly going through a list of their colleagues, asking me if they would get to heaven. They started with some on the "dirty dozen" list, a group with a reputation for their dirty minds or their womanizing. (One list came out that some hard case had listed the chaplain as a reserve for the dirty dozen!!!... the deputy chief told me they only do such things to people they like??) They then went on to list the most argumentative types. I was trying to say that each of these guys is really a nice guy but they continued with this "heaven or hell" sheep drafting. I then commented that I think when we get "there" I suspect we will all be in for a surprise. I suggested that maybe heaven is not what we think it is and that maybe there is no heaven in the traditional way of thinking. It is strange that even people that do not darken the doors of a church assume there is some where "a better place" for them and their loved ones. One of the guys quoted John Lennon's song, "No heaven above us, below us only ground" or something like that. The guy next to me jokingly put his hand on my knee and said, "If that's the case we could 'get it on', there's nothing to stop us!" ... I remember a fundamentalist young man, who disagreed with what he called my "social 'do good' gospel" almost yelling at me... "You can't get to heaven with your good works! You know that don't you?" Then there's that sign on the buses in England that goes, "There probably is no God so stop worrying and enjoy life!"  The strange thing about these statements and conversations is that they assume that I am doing good things, or not doing bad things because I want to get to heaven and avoid hell. Heaven or hell are NOT, never have been, never will be my motivation for living the way I do!

The other thing that annoys me is the tendency for people to be critical or cynical about the motivations behind people that want to do good. I was talking to a woman this morning. It was really the end of a chaplaincy conversation that she had asked for. She asked me what I was going to do with the rest of my day off. I told her I was going to make shelves for the night shelter. She rolled her eyes and shook her head saying sarcastically, "As you do on your day off!" I had a supervisor who seemed to suggest that people who kept themselves busy "doing good" were running away from something. On the contrary, it maybe that they have found something!  My current supervisor tells me I am a perpetual "gap filler". She says I will keep doing things that others are not doing, where ever I see a gap I feel I have to fill it. Others suggest that I am not looking after myself or that somehow I have some sort of neurosis, or complex that drives me to "doing good".

I will admit that sometimes I grow weary of doing good as the good book warns against. Sometimes I know that I get close to "burn out" and very pressured.  But I would rather burn out doing significant things than rust out playing tiddly winks! Here are two reasons I live the way I do.

If someone could prove to me that there is no theistic God, I would still attempt to live the loving lifestyle. There are some things that are intrinsically "right" and "good" and "noble". Someone has borrowed my book, but Stephen Covey in his "7 Habits of successful people" in an appendix outlines his belief that there are basic eternal principles that we are called to live by. The current President of the U.S.A. says a similar thing. He highlights "... a belief that we are connected as people, that there are values that transcend race or culture that move us forward..."  I LOVE that "connected as people" statement - if we all lived by that recognition alone this world would be transformed! So I attempt to live lovingly and be a "do gooder" because I believe there are things and ways of life that are intrinsically "right". I guess these are part and parcel of my "God".

The second reason is very basic. I simply don't want to waste my time! Covey again suggests a way to sort out your values. He says imagine you are at your own funeral. Think of someone from your work, your family, your church or your community coming up to speak about you. What would you want them to be able to say about your life? I really don't care what people might say about me at my funeral. What I do care about is when I draw my last intelligent breath, as I look back on my life, how do I want to feel about it? What will I see then as a successful life? Will I have regrets? As I think about this I do not see any value in being able to say with that last breath statements like; "Well I made a lot of money!" or "Gee I enjoyed playing lots of golf!" or "I was good at renovating my houses!" or "I spoiled my kids and grandchildren rotten" or "I won lots of awards!"  or "I was a great All Black Rugby supporter." .... big woop!  None of these sorts of statements would enable me to go out of this world with a sense of peace and fulfillment. But if I can say as I depart, "That was hard work! There were incredible challenges and lots of questions, BUT I know that this world is a better place, a more peaceful, harmonious place, people have been helped along the journey of life etc... because David Brown passed this way. I know that in my living I have given expression to that essential connectedness we have with all people and with the environment." The other thing that I discover is true as a by-product of this style of living, is that Jesus words are true, "as you lose your life, you find it." It  essentially makes sense to me to not waste your life, muddle through life, drift through life but have your life motivated, given passion, and made meaningful by higher and deeper purposes. This it seems to me is true, whether or not there is a theistic God, or "heaven and hell."  Photo: The setting sun from an Adelaide Beach... chosen because the sun will set at the end of my "day" sometime and I want to say "I lived it well".

Saturday, March 14, 2009

It's a small world...

I was down at the fire station on Friday at afternoon tea time. I was there with a number of fire fighters and my friend from Vanuatu drinking tea and telling stories. At one stage I began a yarn by saying, "While I worked as a plumber on the Clinical Services building..." and went on. (I spent at least two and a half years during my plumbing apprenticeship working on the Clinical Services building at the Dunedin hospital.) At the end of the table was "Mini" Munro, an older firefighter who works now as a trainer. (Using computers and "virtual" fire incidents.) His ears pricked up and he said, "Were you there when a guy fell five floors down a ventilation duct?" I replied that yes I was and he told the story from his point of view. He was called to this incident and they turned up to try and find and rescue this guy who fell. He said, "We had f*** all cutting gear in those days and the saw we had would not start. We ended up using some guy's tin snips to cut him out." To his surprise I said, "Those tin snips were mine.... and they have never worked decently since!"

Here's the story from my point of view. It was 25th July, 1967 ...maybe 68?? (I know it was that date because it was my girlfriend's birthday... now my wife.) I was threading pipe in the plumbers' workshop which was in the basement. I had heard the fire truck siren, but was not really concerned. After a time a big carpenter guy came rushing into the workshop. "You wouldn't have a pair of snips would you? Cyril has fallen five floors down the ducting. The fire men have turned up but their gear is bloody useless. The poor guy's probably buggered by now!" I rushed to my tool box and got two pair of snips out, both expensive brand new apprentice's tools. He rushed off to do the deed and I was later told that this guy virtually ripped the steel ducting apart with his bare hands to get at his friend. Cyril was a carpenter's labourer who looked after their tea rooms and did cleaning up around the site. He was a bit like Radar on the show MASH, he was fairly pivotal and quite a popular, helpful figure. He had fallen down a big ventilation duct, which got narrower as he fell. Five floors down he came to a stop, squeezed into a small duct with his feet up near his ears. Apart from bruises scratches and cuts, and a small broken bone, he was fine when they pulled him out.

Here I was, over forty years later, having changed careers and lived in Australia and all round NZ in between times, telling the story with the fireman, who all those years ago used my snips to cut Cyril out. I told him I would send the bill to the fire station for a new pair of snips. It's a small world!

I remember the date because it was my girlfriend's birthday. I went to her place for a birthday dinner that night. (I bought her a dressing table brush and mirror set for her birthday) I rode a ten speed bike to work, they were a very rare thing in Dunedin at that time. As a crowd gathered to watch the fire fighters and ambulance staff bring Cyril out, some person must have discovered my bike parked behind the fence. I knocked off early that night because I had to go home and clean up before my dinner date. It was then that I discovered that both my tires were slashed! That is why I remember the date so well.

Photos: The Clinical Services building and the tin snips that were used.

Friday, March 13, 2009

I believe in love and "presence"

We have three visitors visiting our Church family. There is a couple from Vanuatu where he is a minister and president of our churches there. There is a man, a leader in the overseas mission area of our churches here, driving them around. I took Moses (the minister from Vanuatu) around a few fire stations yesterday and all three came to our Drop-in centre. All of them are fairly "religious" so I wondered how they would cope with my fairly laid back approach in my community involvement. Also the firefighters and indeed some of our drop-in people have a fairly "rich" vocabulary so I wondered how they would cope with that. Being with another person makes you look at your own activities from an outsider's perspective. How does it measure up? Would they see it as a waste of time? Am I doing something useful? In all modesty I finished yesterday feeling good about what I do.

We visited the first fire station and had a cup of tea with some of the firefighters. The conversation was fairly tame really, about interesting subjects and life experiences, though dotted with expletives. Apart from one "How are you after your....?" conversation there had been no real "pastoral" conversations. I hopped in the car wondering what Moses had been thinking. As we drove out of the station he made a comment, "Often just our presence makes a difference for people doesn't it?" I breathed a sigh of relief. He was on my wave length and saw the value in sitting around talking and listening. 

That is what we do at drop-in. The people come in at 6:30 p.m. and receive sausages, tomato sauce and sandwiches. There are easy chairs, hot drinks on tap, TV, pool tables and table tennis tables. We catch up, talk life, play pool, do dishes, serve food for 3 hours. Let me tell you of some of the people there last night. 

Sally with 9 month old baby in arms, has two other daughters there (6yrs & 9yrs). Each has a different father. Sally, is relatively attractive, has had trouble with the law, has attempted suicide and has delved into drugs. Sally's mum and Dad are there, they basically parent Sally's children, but have health problems of their own and other adult children in and out of prison and with "issues". Bill, Sally's dad spends the night playing pool with Jack. Jack is a devoted and serious pool player and as such has been known to fly off the handle, threaten people with a pool cue and throw his cue down when things don't go his way. Fred is there with his wife Jill. Jill is in a wheel chair and is getting heavier. I know this because Fred and I carry her and the chair up the flight of 25 stairs. Fred is likable enough, but is like a 13-14 year old in a mans body. His sister Mary is like an 9 year old in a 40 year old's body and can fly off the handle easily. Tonight she had great joy in feeding Sally's baby and getting her down to sleep. Harry is a 38 yr old who is a nice genuine guy, but who struggles with weird voices in his head and who has been made to feel perpetually guilty by warped fundamentalist religion. He loves to play pool with me and tonight talked through anxieties with me and later with my wife. Dick a 70 year old alcoholic I have known for 20 years, sits chatting on the couch with another alcoholic in his late seventies.  Trevor his mate and landlord, sits close by and has a tendency to go on about the same subject all night. He actually owns old houses on valuable land, but lives roughly in one of the houses. He has been unemployed for years. Freda is a 38 year old delightful busy body who knows and cares about every body. She runs around getting cups of coffee for people. Henry a loud Australian helps serve food but gives people cheek, sometimes causing an uproar. Ted is a strange character who likes to abuse people and has a liking for blocking the toilets with paper or magazines. I could go on to describe more people...  we average about 40 through each Friday night. (I have changed their names) But you get the picture of these people who are my Friday night friends and "congregation". There are new faces each week. It is funny watching them. They come in, get a drink and sit looking out at the crowded hall wondering what its all about. 

Last night as I looked at all that was happening wondering how our visitors saw this, I felt a surge of pride. All around you could see this motly crew of people, acting like brothers and sisters to one another. They talked, joked, drank coffee, played pool and enjoyed being "present" for one another. Amongst them was Curly and Margaret Griffith, my wife Jean and her sister Elva. We were doing dishes, listening, joking, playing pool etc. responsibly sharing friendship and hospitality with these people. Together we all were a loving family and I thought that people were being valued, supported, guided and cared for. Don Williams sang a song called "I believe in love" that I really enjoy. I was reminded of that. We have the privilege of facilitating a place where love happens, where people are present to one another and that is NOT a waste of time. Another song says, "Love changes everything" and I think that is what happens in people's lives. I felt proud of our drop-in and my being "present" at fire stations

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

"... at your age..."

I have just been to the doctor for him to check my blood pressure medication. I would like to decrease it if possible but he is reluctant to even if my readings are lowish. He said, "You are 60 now and at your age you could have a stroke if your blood pressure goes too high." I hate that phrase, "at your age". Every body says it to me. "You should have given up running at your age, go biking instead." "At your age you should go for walks and take up bowls." "At your age you should be slowing down, not working so hard!" "You went for a dirty weekend! Are you still doing that at your age?" At a shop the other day, "I'll take that to your car sir, at your age you don't need to be lifting that!" I never said what came to mind, I just politely said, "No thanks I'll be fine!" Then the good one was a forty year old guy at the gym when comparing distances for twenty minutes of rowing, "You beat me! I hope I can still do that when I'm your age!" I guess I have to accept gracefully that I am getting older. I should be thankful for the measure of health and well being I have.... but if you are talking to me, please don't, whatever you say, verbalise the phrase "at your age." I could possibly scream at you, which is not a good look at my age!

Monday, March 9, 2009

"All things to all people..."

I recall a retired minister telling me as a young student that he would never conduct a wedding away from a church setting. He claimed that the wedding belonged within the community of the church. A funeral director, a very religious man, once said to me that he would never conduct a funeral for anyone who did not want it to be religious. I can understand all these positions but I have differed.

Since Christmas I have taken four wedding services, only one was in church. (A confirmation of vows really, a western style service for a Japanese couple.) In the first weeks of chaplaincy at the brewery I was asked to take a funeral. As I talked with the family the instructions were clear and to the point... "No bullshit and no religion!" ... ("Short funeral" I remember thinking at the time.)

When I take funerals or weddings I talk with the family about what sort of "religion" they want. As I talk and listen I am sensitive to where they are at. In the ceremony I often turn what would be prayers into "statements" or "affirmations". I will introduce them by saying, "Shall we join in a statement (sometimes affirmation) or prayer..." At the end of such prayers or statements, I will sometimes say... "I pray in the name of Jesus" allowing others the freedom to identify or not. I am happy to take weddings where ever it suits the couple and family. Nearly all my weddings are not in the church setting. I recall taking a wedding on a beach down the Otago Peninsula. At the rehearsal we placed a rock near where the bride would stand the next day. When we arrived the next day that rock was under water! The tide had come in.

I have had criticism from religious people who claim I am "wishy washy" and not making a strong "witness to Christ". They say that as a minister of the gospel I should be unashamedly religious and present the gospel through prayers, scripture readings etc. I would claim that I am witnessing to Christ, to the love of Christ. Jesus went about meeting people and ministering to them at their point of need. In the story of the good Samaritan, he decried those who let religious protocol leave a dying man on the side of the road. I believe by meeting people at their point of understanding I am witnessing to the love of Christ. I am willing to reach out, "empty myself" so that I can relevantly minister to them in ways they can identify with. What I endeavour to do is to lead people to experience the sacredness of the occasion, the sacredness in human life or relationships, whether or not they can or are willing to name that sacredness "God". One feedback I got once was, "Somehow you brought God into it without mentioning him." An athiest fire fighter once said to me that at my funerals "you do not feel offended or left out."

It takes a lot more work to sort out wording to suit the people involved. It often leads to situations where you are not in control or you are uncomfortable, because you are on their territory. I keep thinking, however, that Jesus would do the same sort of thing. That this is what "the word became flesh" was all about. I have the privilege often of shouting "God" "silently" just by being there for and with people in these important moments of their life. (Photo: a naming ceremony carefully worked out with the couple involved. Conducted in their lounge)

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Sundays burble...

God's thoughts are not our thoughts; Deny yourself, take up your cross; if you lose your life you find it. etc.

This was the theme of the reading for today's morning service. I had preacher's block during the week on this. What could I say that was new? How do you communicate the different values and ways of the eternal? I tried again but it is not easy. As I plodded around my run tonight I thought of Francis of Assisi's comment. It went something like this; "Preach the gospel in season and out of season. If necessary use words." I actually think the only way to communicate the way of Jesus, the way of the cross; the way of the servant king, is to live it out in the midst of the community. It is important too for the church in the community to be seen to be living it out. Oh well, I tried speaking about it. I hope my lifestyle goes some way to showing it.

Old people

Many in my congregation are elderly people, but this afternoon it was my turn to lead a service at Ross Home, an elderly persons' home in our town. We took the data-projector and some music videos to ensure they enjoyed some music.... But what do you say to people who could be dead next week? What do you say to people immobilised in a wheel chair and with more health and disability problems than I can imagine? They all say they love me but each time I struggle to put into words something real and relevant. Sometimes, I must admit, I have thrown together a bunch of cliches and presented these. That practice came to an abrupt halt when I fronted up one day and discovered an old time chaplain colleague of mine, in there at a relatively young age, because he was dying of cancer. I remember the sense of guilt as I stood behind the pulpit. Here was my friend in the last weeks of his life, and I had cobbled together something to fill in the time acceptably! I am much more conscientious these days.

Exercise report.

This week I have struggled with a cold. I had a small run last Sunday... a walk up a hill track and back on Wednesday.... another small run on Thursday...slightly longer one on Saturday. Tonight I ran even though it was raining. I ran 9.5k, the longest run I have done for a while and I did it well. It was persistent rain, "persisting" down all the time except for the last half k. About two thirds of the way around I saw another old bloke... perhaps a little younger than I... running the other way, with a jacket on, but looking as drenched as I was. As he closed in on me he put on this broad grin and raised both his hands in a joyful salute. I yelled at him; "You're mad too!" "Yeah! but isn't it great!" he yelled back. I had to agree. It was quite nice plodding along in the rain, but I think only slightly demented runners would understand that. I guess sometime in the future I will have to give up running, but I hope not for a while. I just loved plodding along under my breathe saying,"One, two, three and four, ... One, two, three and four....." ... and feeling the rhythm of my feet on the ground and sensing and appreciating my breathing and my body movement. I'm so glad I can still jog at the moment, it is great Sunday afternoon therapy.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

The rhythms of life...

During the holidays I read a biography of John Seymour. He was a guru of self-sufficiency and wrote one of my favourite books. ("The Complete Book of Self-Sufficiency") I loved the book for the heap of practical advice in it, its philosophies and its sense of humour. One example was when he wrote about a tree he suggests burying a dead dog at the base of it. With tongue in cheek he says, "If you haven't got one, find one and shoot it!" The biography showed that here was another writer whose personal life was not as idyllic as his writings might suggest. But it reminded me of my experiences of and yearning for living out self-sufficiency principles. When we were at Apiti we experimented with Self-sufficiency and it has been a part of our lives ever since. We still try growing veges and fruit, still keep making and repairing things and still keep hens. I hope when, and if I retire to get back to doing more of it, there were deep rewards. I will list off some nostalgic memories.

  • We purchased year old battery hens and free ranged them. At first they lacked feathers, could not perch and did not know how to peck at grass and insects and such. They were scared of sunlight! It was so great a few months later to see the same hens running around, fully feathered, enjoying the paddock and the stream and being harassed by an ever horny rooster. The eggs had a thick consistency and were a rich yellow.
  • We drank copious quantities of goats milk and made our own yogurt and cottage cheese. Simply delicious.
  • We installed an old wood stove and would clean up farmers' fallen trees to keep it going. We could cook, heat the water and heat the house with this stove. A kettle perpetually sizzling on the stove was a great feeling of "home".
  • There was something really neat about looking at your big colourful meal of meat and fresh veges and knowing that you had grown everything on your plate.
  • There was the absolute joy of watching, sometimes helping kids to be born. They were always a delight with heaps of energy and mischief.
  • There was a sense of peace, quietly rounding the goats up and one by one milking them. Each had a different personality and each had their preferred order of walking in and being milked. Sitting milking a goat with your ear up against their warm tummy, hearing it rumbling away there was something so real. You knew that this "machine" had taken grass, dock leaves, blackberry leaves and all sorts of other greenery and turned it into beautiful milk! And it would do the same by tomorrow morning, and again at night. If it was cold and wet, production went down, the goat had not eaten as much. One goat would finish eating whatever pallets you put for her to have while you milked her,then pick the container up throw it aside and turn her head and softly nuzzle your ear until you finished milking.
  • Then there was the killing of hens or male kid goats for meat. What was a job you tended to put off became a sacred experience as you realised that this animal's life was sacrificed for your table. Food became so much more precious and meaningful.
  • You appreciated the weather so much more. If it rained you were thankful for it, it was not just a nuisance. The sun too was appreciated and the balance of hot and cold, night and day and the different seasons. There was a new sensitivity and appreciation of life, creation and its balance.
One of the hassles of modern society is that we lose touch with the rhythms of life. We lose that sense of appreciation, sensuality and awe at the provision of nature. I recall once we offered someone I was budgeting for some free surplus eggs. He turned us down, he wanted "real eggs from the supermarket". He was suspicious of home grown ones. I once heard of a program for troubled young people that taught them to do a vege garden and raise hens. I would think these simple activities would bring so much that is "spiritual" into their lives. I will always dabble in self-sufficiency, thank you John Seymour.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

She doesn't know I love her!

Char has gone to prison. I first met Char when she was 13. She came with her parents to our drop-in centre. Some of us discussed then if she was a girl or a boy, she was such a tom-boy. She could handle a pool cue and I played endless games of pool with her. We had an ongoing rivalry. She had a cute way of screwing up her face when she missed a shot, and beamed all over with pride when a tricky one came off for her, and would look at me to make sure I had noticed. She asked me once if God was male or female. I learned she was good at art and she did a couple of posters that we hung on the wall. ... one said, "God Rocks!" another "God Loves us all!" Then she grew older and tended to stop chatting. I recall once her and a couple of mates were doing some stupid stuff and I went down and sat on the fence where they were smoking and harassing others. I sat and listened to their prattle and asked questions then warned them. I reminded them of a woman who comes who is perpetually drunk, lives rough and whose life is a mess. I said that they were headed in that direction. Some listened and changed for the better, Char didn't. I was tickled last year she brought a mate along and I heard her say, "That's Dave. He's cool. He's the best pool player here."(which is incorrect) Anyway she has progressively got into more trouble and last week she went to prison as a 19year old. I ache for her. Looking at her she has these big eyes in which you can see anger- sadness and mostly a lost little girl, who is trying to look tough with tatts and cynical sneer. I love her (Not in that way) but she doesn't know it. It hurts to know she is going to prison. I read a prison chaplain's comment on prison life and he called them "Universities for criminals." He said most come out worse than they went in. Have I failed her? What more could/should I have done?

Joel went to prison last week too. Joel is a great guy. I helped him build his house. We talked together, we sweated together and we laughed. I found him to be a hard worker. He was a quick thinker with a quick wit. He was simply delightful to work with. Too much booze and too much anger and too often over stepping the mark has led to this imprisonment. And again it hurts me! I ache for him. I saw his kids the other day and I wanted to give them all a big hug. They looked so sad, big brown sad Maori eyes.

Terry, I have known for 20years is still drinking and gambling. Gary and Chris were drunk last Friday. Brian still cant control his temper while playing pool. Fred's marriage is still heading downhill. Tayla has run away from home and broken her grandma's heart. And I heard Stephan is in trouble with the law. etc. etc. And the thing is they don't know that I love them and it hurts me to see them this way.

I once watched a horse race (Derby I think) on TV. At various jumps horses fell and jockeys were spilled on the ground, but the race went on. The racing horses just barrelled over top of the fallen horses and jockeys and carried on to the next jump, and so it went on. I think some how the Joel's and Chars of this world are like those jockeys. For various reasons they stumble and fall in life and everyone in our society just races on, no one stops to pick them up, or help them to their feet. And they are injured and every time they get on their feet again, they just keep on falling. The world races on.

I listened to a church man pontificating about "young people today, they have no respect!". He was saying "they" should do something about them.... "teach them a lesson" ... It doesn't hurt him that Char went to prison! I doubt he knows any "Chars"! He lives life in a protective bubble, well within his comfort zone! I heard of a church with 25 members wanting to raise $2million to restore their historic church building! Would Jesus have that priority in this world? A man in my church complained because the church pews had been moved and he said, "This is serious!" ... yeah right! I heard another had complained because no one had publicly thank him for some thing he had done! Another man complained to me because I signed my emails off with "Cheers"! It annoyed him. ... I wanted to scream. Someone else complains about the way I lead communion.. the prayers are not in the right order. People's lives are being flushed down the toilet and are already in hell and followers of Jesus are arguing about "angels on pinheads"!

One old song had the repeated refrain, "Love Hurts". It does. There is a part of me that wishes I could live life in a bubble and not care about the "Chars, Terry's, Joel's, etc" of this world, but I can't and sometimes I despair. But then I get those deep down feelings that this hurting, loving, caring and sharing is what makes life significant, meaningful and ultimately rewarding.