Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, May 31, 2009

Do chooks talk?

This afternoon I went to the hen house to put more mash in their feeder.  I throw a few handfuls of wheat into the yard which has them all out of the hen house, out from under my feet. (We only have 5 hens) I then went into the hen house with a bag of mash and began tipping it into their virtually empty feeder. One hen came in, nosed up to the feeder and dipped into the mash. She turned and went out to the yard, clucking noisily.  She returned with all of the others in tow and they all came up to the feeder to check it out!

It was just as if upon discovering that there was new mash in the feeder, she rushed out and said, "Hey girls he has just put new mash in, come and get it!". ... you would swear that she communicated something?  Not scientific but interesting.

Why build another house?

Saturday was the first real working day of a new Habitat for Humanity house in Dunedin. It will be the thirteenth house that I have been involved in building. On each of them I have put in hundreds of hours. In Habitat for Humanity we volunteers help a family build a house and then the family pays for the house on an interest-free loan. It is a great step up for a family who would otherwise not be able to get into home ownership. I was a part of starting a Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Dunedin in 1995. Habitat has changed over the years with the affiliates becoming less autonomous and the deal for home owners being less generous than it once was. I do not agree with the changes but still feel it helps families. Why do I do it?

  • As I have mentioned in previous posts, one of my deeply held values is that we all belong together. As part of the human family we are connected to one another. We are "brothers and sisters". Most of us would willingly assist our natural siblings whenever they call on us for help in the journey of life. By helping to build at a Habitat for Humanity house I am expressing my solidarity with others. I am giving practical expression to this deep value.
  • We all long to live in healthy communities. We long for our communities to be places of support, trust and togetherness. The atmosphere of any community is set by the people who live in it. If everybody is out for what they can get, then the community "feel" is not there.  Isolation, mistrust and lack of sharing abound and the general level of "community" is low. Walls are erected between people.  Working on a Habitat for Humanity build, I believe contributes to the overall health of a community. All sorts of links are made, people are joined together in practical ways and the common well being of the community is increased. All volunteer participation breaks down barriers and helps this community health.
  • I claim to be a follower of Jesus. Jesus promoted a generous, caring and loving lifestyle. By being involved with Habitat for Humanity I am giving practical expression to the faith that I say I practice. Faith without action is dead.
  • I have been very fortunate in life to be surrounded by supportive people, to have had good health and have never had to starve. Compared to the rest of the world I am rich! This has in a sense been my heritage, and no real achievement of my own. I believe I am called to share this good fortune with others.
  • Working on a Habitat house I learn heaps and extend my experience, knowledge and appreciation of life.
  • On every Habitat house I have worked on there have been special moments of togetherness, excitement and shear fun. Even though there are tough moments when you wonder why you get up on a Saturday and do such a thing, it is still essentially a real good buzz to build with others.

You can follow the progress of the house on http://h4hdunedin.blogspot.com/

Be encouraged in whatever you do for the community. The impact that any volunteers service has on the overall well being of life and community, is far greater than we can imagine. Such giving is part of the very essence of life, it is what makes life worthwhile.

Photo: There will be a home housing a family here soon. At least it's a flat section this time, only the second flat section in thirteen houses.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Limited options


I went to a film at the Human Rights festival last night and was reminded of a concept I learned about when I did a social work course and have seen as a reality in real life. There is a poverty that revolves around the "choices that are open to a person". The two films I watched were about homelessness. We often look at homeless people and think, "It is their fault." or "It's a choice they made." Some interviews with homeless people indicated some of the options open to them. There was a man, not now homeless (29 year old) who as a 14 year old boy was getting beaten by his step father at home and virtually was thrown out on the streets. If he went to authorities they may well take him back to his parents. First he lived in a make shift shelter in bush near his parent's home and then in another one by the rail tracks in Christchurch. He could not earn money. He could return home and get beaten. What were the options open to him? He chose to live on the streets. He chose to be involved in petty crime to stop himself from starving. What were his options? To live in a dangerous situation and face hell? Given those choices we all would end up where he was. Another woman with a son lived in hell. She kept hoping it would get better, but every time she came through her front door she dreaded the hell and abuse waiting for her and her child. While being interviewed now, years after the event, her memories brought back the tears. We may look down on her and say, "It was her choice! She had a home to go to." But what were her options? If we ended up in the same situation, what options would we see before us? I need to remember that with some of the folk I deal with. Their options in life, because of the situations they were born into, because of the events that happened to them, will have often been much more difficult and much more limited than mine. Even people with addictions. It could be either the relative comfort of addictions or the reality of the hopelessness and hell of life without them. Their options are not mine. I need to assist them by opening the way for other options, enabling them to see the possibilities.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Questioning Democracy

We in the West worship free democracy as the ideal, the ultimate in running a country. I have to say that it is the best we have, but I don't think it is without fault. I have been reading the newspapers and looking on the Internet thinking about the state of the nation and the world. Also reflecting a bit on history and how we got to be where we are.

Here is what I see as weakness in democracy. Often the true leadership needed for a country will need to make changes, stretch minds and world views to lead that society toward a more noble, wholesome and ideal community. Because of the human tendency to be unwilling to be stretched or changed, often in a democracy good leaders will be exchanged for popular leaders who will endorse the status quo or wind back the clock to that which is comfortable.

Let me illustrate. In the workplace we are often called to change and grow. Good managers will encourage professional development, experimentation, adaption and a general move toward excellence. Now it has been my experience that people often tend to be, at least initially, resistant to change. Often the only reason change happens is that we have no choice, the manager pays us, the manager is not appointed by us. I am sure that in many a workplace, if managers could get voted out by their workforce, i.e. if the workplace was a democracy, many good leaders and managers would be voted out because they are initially unpopular because of the changes they call for. I believe this happens in the church. Ministers in many denominations can be voted out. Any minister that wants to rock the boat, make changes is in fact risking his job. I believe the church often stagnates, is behind the times and loses good forward thinking leaders for this reason.

I think that in the history of democracy this is true also. In many countries, good leadership has been replaced by popular leadership and society has not progressed. In my view democracy needs to be supported by two things if it is to be effective in bringing real leadership to a society.

Education... the people who are doing the voting need to be equipped to THINK through the issues. Where education is just equipping to fulfil societal roles, it fails. It must give people the equipment that enables them to creatively, rationally tackle issues and not just react to them, if old well worn paths are being disturbed. Education has an important supporting role if democracy is to be effective.

Media with integrity... I suspect that in today's world the media have power to really "run the country" in the way they report issues and the priorities they have. They have incredible power. It is vital then that journalists and people in the media take their responsibility seriously. They are not just there for entertainment, but for information and to facilitate the discussion and awareness of the issues facing society. This is an incredible responsibility and requires real integrity.

Anyway those thoughts have been buzzing through my weird mind lately.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Music and lyrics

I watched a romantic comedy last night. Films are so predictable aren't they.

An action film... like Rambo.. Die Hard etc... The hero has an incredible task to stop bad guy doing bad stuff, and it all depends on him. He begins to tackle the job and it only gets tougher. Somewhere the hero gets beaten up and ends up in a bad situation. .. Usually with a makeshift bandage over a bleeding wound and his clothing torn and a bare chest showing.... But hero overcomes the odds, and in spite of many many bad guys against him, (or her these days) manages to beat the crap out of bad guys and saves the day with an "only doing my job" shrug of his/her shoulders. Sometimes he even gets the gorgeous girl with whom he has been arguing and protecting all film long.

Romantic or romantic comedy film. (We watched "Music and Lyrics" with Hugh Grant and Drew Barrymore in it) Man and woman meet in unlikely circumstances and often an unlikely couple (e.g. "Pretty Woman" ... Prostitute & Business tycoon... Another Hugh Grant film with Julie Roberts- famous actress with secondhand bookshop owner etc.) They seem to have chemistry and the relationship begins to blossom. She makes a stand on some principle, they begin arguing and tension develops. Then usually the man says something stupid. (Obviously men are stupid in chic flicks!) and they split up. Then there are sequences where each is alone aching for the other, obviously hurt. The last scenes of the film the man in some way returns to her and apologises for his stupidity and they end up in a rapturous lip-bruising kiss. (Gere brought balloons to Julie Roberts in "Pretty Woman".. last night Hugh Grant created and sung a sloppy "give me another chance" song.) The thing is that basically they are all the same! As soon as I saw the girl come to the door of Hugh Grant's apartment to water the plants last night I knew the story line! Can't the writers get more imaginative? Basically its the Cinderella story retold in different guises. Why? And why do we keep watching them?

I guess one reason is that in real life we often find that love happens in funny places with the people we least expect, and this basic story line reminds us of those experiences.

Music and lyrics...sex and relationships. One of the key lines in the film last night interested me. The couple were working on creating a song together. He created the music, she was the lyricist. He claimed the music was all important. She argued that the lyrics were just as important. In stating her case she said, "It is like relationships. First there is the sexual attraction and the sex. That's the music. Then, if all goes well there is the relationship and talking, where you get to know each other. That's the lyrics."  Of course by the end of the film this lucky couple had the music and the lyrics. But I found the order in which she placed things interesting. First the sex, then getting to know each other. It reminded me of a documentary where they were interviewing young women clubbers in NZ. They had the same order of things. You pick someone up at the a club, have sex and if that goes alright then you build a relationship. It does not ring bells with me.

Now I am not an expert in these matters. I was nicknamed the "Bull Virgin" before I was married, so I have not had sex partners, so some would say I have little experience to speak from.  I "saved myself" for marriage, though some interesting, exciting and valuable "exploration and learning" took place between my girlfriend/fiance and I. (I am thankful for that because the lessons learned in exploration actually help lead to a creative sex life in marriage. Also I am forever thankful that we became good friends and had a good level of intimacy in terms of ability to talk openly with each other, before we became lovers.) It was the way it was for good little Christian girls and boys in those days. Perhaps with a broader perspective if I was young these days I may be more adventurous. But... even if I was young and more adventurous I still think that the best way around is for the physical intimacy to grow out of the intimacy of relating and knowing one another. It seems to me to be the right way around. When I have been talking to youth groups and young people about such things I have always said that whatever physical relationship we choose to have needs to be commensurate with the level of intimacy of the talking- sharing-knowing each other side of the relationship. I recall one relatively liberal thinking sex expert in a book writing sentences that said such things as; "If you can't talk freely about contraception, should you be having sex in the first place?" and again, "If you can't freely talk about the sorts of things you want to do and and have done to you while making love, should you be having sex with this person?"  So I disagree with the "music" coming before the "lyrics". Its the difference between "sex" and "making love". It seems healthier to me for intimacy of relating to come before physical intimacy.  I may be in-experienced and not be able to list off a stack of sexual partnerships, but I have seen a stack of hurt people, stifled lives and stuffed up relationships when the "music" has come first and the "lyrics" (true intimacy) has come later or perhaps never really happened.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Sharing the journey

A Muslim perspective....I had a young man from United Arab Emerits skype me out of the blue and he has talked to me on and off about various things over the past month or so. He is a Muslim and through skype messaging I was able to share with him as he cared for his grandmother in the last days of her life. I did not have as much contact with him since he moved to Egypt for study, but we reconnected in this last week. He tells me he has heart failure and is not expected to live long. I have promised to email him every day talking about life etc. In my last email I asked him to tell me about his religion and why he liked it. He replied with the following words.... (His English is not the best but a million times better than my non-existent Arabic!)

my religion give me the permenant happiness and the islam give me the chance to face this pain and this fatal disease
iam thanking god everyday that iam muslim and when i was child i learned how to help people the islam told us not to hate each other and help the people as possiable as you can and talk wthi christians and show them the beauty of islam
its enough for me that islam learn me how to respect every one in this life no matter if he is rich or poor
thank you keep going on sending updates of your life

It is a very different picture of Islam than we get from other sources. We often hear from the war fostering-barrier building fringe of the Muslim faith. Mind you I saw a survey the other day with the percentages of USA evangelical Christians who endorse torture as a tactic... it was quite staggering. Christianity too has a war fostering-barrier building fringe that we are embarrassed by. I am hoping Hameed will stretch my mind and broaden my experience in the months ahead.

Running alone tonight... I have not really run seriously for about three weeks. My hamstring was playing up and I felt a rest would do it good. I have a running friend who usually runs with me Sunday nights. As well as helping to encourage each other's fitness we share our week's journey with each other.  Tonight however I had to run alone. I ran 9.5k and I think my hamstring stood the test. While I enjoy running alone and sorting the world out in my mind, I did miss my usual Sunday evening company. I have had a Sunday night friend (I used to run with my church organist on a Sunday evening) to debrief with now since 1992 and you get to depend on this once a week therapy. It felt nice to be running again though.

Friday, May 22, 2009

"Write a letter and... screw it up"

"Too late, it's gone"....When we were getting ready to leave college and head out as young ministers... "God's gift to the church"..... the various lecturers each gave us bits of advice. Our Practical Church Work lecturer, "GR", said that often you will be tempted to write angry letters to people who have done you wrong. He suggested that we ought to write them... pour out our heart and let them know how we feel. But then having expressed how we feel and what we think.... "screw the letter up and don't send it." I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and he was saying how the "new" technology of emails causes problems. Where as once you would write out an angry letter... stew on it, think better about it and screw it up... now we tend to just blast away on the computer, push the send button and ... too late it has gone... there is no retracting it!

I received an email complaining about my wife this week. One of our drop-in centre guys who came to a new venture we have at church did not like my wife limiting the number of cups of coffee he had. This new venture is different from a drop-in, aimed at different people and people wanting a hot drink are asked to give a gold coin donation. He treated it like drop-in and wanted more free stuff. If I was being cruel, I would say he is one of the world's bludgers.  He is, but there are reasons he is the way he is so it is cruel to just write him off like that. Well he sent me an email complaining about my wife's unwelcoming, uncharitable attitude etc. Now it has to be pointed out that my wife spends nearly every waking hour in voluntary service of people in the community. This made me see red, but I replied with what I thought was a nice email explaining that this new venture was different from the drop-in. I explained why my wife may have expressed caution at the number of free (good cona coffee) coffees he was helping himself to and that perhaps if this was not what he wanted, this was not the sort of place to come with the expectations he had. He wrote yet another short angry email. I replied and said in essence, if he did not like what he experienced then he was free not to come, that it was meant to be more like a coffee bar than a drop-in.  Then I got a really angry email back. I was a nasty uncharitable, unsupportive person who was attacking him when I should be apologising for my wife's actions etc. etc. Well I was then angry... I wrote a most descriptive email back to him.... but finger poised on the send button... did not send it, deleted it. I worked away at other stuff for a while and again stewing, composed yet another email... again, so nearly sent it... but fortunately deleted it. When I see him next I may express some thoughts, but I am glad I never sent those two compilations. This new technology demands quicker wisdom.

A second complaint came. A guy who loves to gamble on the horses used to switch the TV at the drop-in to the racing channel and "Turf digest" in hand watch his races. It annoyed others who wanted to watch TV, but also it was not something we wanted to have going at the drop-in where often people have gambling problems anyway. I also know that he involves some younger guys in gambling when they cannot afford it. Well he came to my office to complain. Why can't he watch his horse racing? I told him our policy and he essentially said he would not be back. I said in essence, "That's your choice." He was there last night again, scoffing cups of free soup. After two complaints like this in one week, you wonder why you do it.

Balanced by..... I received two contacts from experienced people working in the community who said they had heard that we were "doing good things for these people and they want to learn about what we were doing." That put balance to my week.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Abuse of alcohol and other stuff...

I am an industrial chaplain to a brewery. I love a guinness, or a Speights Old Dark, a variety of other interesting beers, a Stone's Original Ginger wine, or ... some other drink. I am not a tea total parson, though I don't think I have really been drunk in my life. (I have let my wife drive home a couple of times.) ... but I am growing more and more concerned about the attitude toward drink we have in NZ and the damage it does to people and in our community.

I read of a couple sleeping in their camper van getting attacked by a bunch of teens, fueled by drink. The Octagon, in the centre of town is often a place of violence because of inebriated customers spilling out of the many bars. Cruise ships coming to town are warned about drunken behaviour on our Dunedin streets. If you bother to read the court news (not a good idea) you will discover most of the cases have some relation to abuse of alcohol or sometimes drugs. These type of incidents that you read of are just the tip of the iceberg of the problems caused by abuse of alcohol. I talked to a social worker in a hospital and she told me of so many cases where families and lives were ruined by preventable problems brought on by long term alcohol abuse. Much of this abuse was relatively respectable "harmless" private, but long term abuse.  Spend a Friday or Saturday night with ambulance crews and you can see the results of abuse. This afternoon I was invited to a function. It sounded attractive enough. There is to be a band playing and I know one of the main musicians. There is going to be big screen rugby, a test match to watch. But the invite came in these terms.... "Booze, a band and rugby.... come and get pissed with us!" Why do I need to get pissed to have a good time? If I go and don't get pissed but everyone else does, I probably won't have a good time. What is it with our attitude toward drink?

I read in the paper a retired cop searching for answers to this problem and it seems others are thinking things through too. Many suggestions are made. Make it more difficult to get alcohol.... Tax it through the roof. Limit the outlets. Raise the drinking age. Put time limits on when and where it should be sold. Bring back the old "Drunk in public law." And so we could go on in the search for solutions. 

Let me suggest another question to ask. I over eat. I most often over eat when I am stressed. If I am stewing on my work, uncertain about whether I can cope or do a good job, I will tend to graze. I'll open the fridge, spread another bit of bread. ..Buy some morning tea. etc. Now to deal with it I could put a lock on the fridge door.... Make sure there is not spare bread around. ...Go to work with no money in my pocket so I cant buy a snack etc. All good ideas, but wouldn't it be better to do something about my stress? It is stress that causes it, not the fridge, or the bread or the money. If I was just prevented from over eating I might exhibit my distress in other ways, that are just as harmful or even more harmful. Surely the best way to deal with it is to find a way not to get stressed or to find ways to work through whatever stresses me? The same is true of alcohol abuse.

I think that as a individuals and as a society we need to be asking, "Why is it that we feel the need to 'get pissed' to have a good time?" "What is the distress or distortion in our lifestyle that makes us need to abuse alcohol?" There are deeper issues at steak, and the abuse of alcohol is just the symptom. Is there an "existential vacuum" (lack of meaning) that causes it? Is there a lack of hope? Is it related to a lack of esteem... we need the booze to feel good among others? While we may control some of the negative outcomes of abuse by legislative action, it would be better to do some thinking about these deeper issues. I have no answers, but just feel we need to be asking deeper questions. They not only relate to abuse of alcohol but other "symptoms" obvious in our society. Why the senseless vandalism? Why the over-the-top frenzy over sport? Why the increasing violence? These are trends and symptoms of deeper issues. We need to ask deeper questions if we are to address them. That's some of my questioning and stewing so far.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Karen Armstrong... you go girl!

I am currently reading a book by Karen Armstrong. (The History of God)  We have just increased the number of gigs I can have monthly so tonight I listened to a "Ted Talk" by her. She put into words some of the things I struggle to put into words. Here are some sentences from her talk.

"Up until 17th Century 'belief' meant 'I love' or 'I engage myself'', it was not about giving intellectual assent to doctrines"

"Religion is about behaving differently"

As she compared religions she came to the conclusion that essentially being religious is "To behave in a committed way and then you begin to understand the truths of religion." (I had a post that said a similar thing... I talked about different ways of knowing.)

In a comparisson of main religions "Pride of place is given to compassion... to feel with the other... as a true test of religiosity" and "it is compassion that brings us into the presence of the divine."  ... because "our ego is taken out of the centre of our being".

"A lot of religious people prefer to be right rather than compassionate."

"Our situation in the world today is so serious that any ideology that does not promote a sense of global understanding and global appreciation is failing the test of the times."

It is so inspiring to hear of a faith stretching the boundaries of love, and having a real breadth, depth and relevance. Unfortunately so much religion in the west today seems to be a religious expression of a selfishness and tribalism that causes the problems in the first place.

Great stuff, Karen Armstrong, I liked it.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

My hobby could kill me!

Thinking about blowing a fuse.......I learned from some medical people the other day that it sometimes happens that men at the height of sexual enjoyment can have a sudden headache and end up with a bleed in the head... which can sometimes be fatal!  My first reaction was, "Yeah but what a way to go!"  But that's scary! They call it post coital head bleed or something like that. Oh no... I thought biking on the road was dangerous! Now I can get sick doing my favourite hobby? 

On reflection, it does not put me off.  You have to live while you can. The women who were telling me this said that women have known that headaches can be dangerous for a long time. Just thought you might like to know this useless bit of information. I still think it would be a great way to go.

A busy week.... fuses blow.

I have been sitting in front of the fire watching the box after a busy week. There were a number of areas of my life that threw extra duties at me. There was of course the normal ministry/chaplaincy duties. This week that included an extra devotional and those darned time sheets and stats for chaplaincy work. But three parts of my life all contributed to my busy week.

Night shelter....I have been responsible for running adverts and publicity in an attempt to gain more volunteers for the night shelter. We had 30 people at a training night that I hosted at the church on Thursday. I realise it is a big ask having people stay over at a night shelter among people they do not know, and who may not be the most trust worthy souls. Anyway it was an extra.

Inner-city ministers..... On Pentecost Sunday we in Dunedin have traditionally run an evening ecumenical service for the inner-city churches. This year it is our turn to host it. I suggested that the theme be "Celebrating chaplaincies" since this is one area where the churches actually work together to infiltrate the community with God's love. Pentecost Sunday is 31st May so in this past week I have been trying to put that together so that I can involve choirs, chaplains and other clergy. 

Habitat for Humanity..... I had to turn out a newsletter for Habitat for Humanity. It took longer because I am a slow typist and writer and my normal Newsletter help person was out of town. Secondly I had to organise and MC a groundbreaking ceremony up on the site of our Habitat build. It was quite moving to hear how much the family wanted this house. It is a big family so we are to build a six bedroom house. As I stood beside Mike, the dad as he turned over the first bit of turf I thought of the months ahead. Every Saturday will be taken up building! I will be trying to gather as many volunteers as possible. I will be trying to organise various parts of the job. It is full on building a house! We do not have many volunteers so life will be hectic, but I know that this will be a great big step up for this family. It is my 13th Habitat house and on each I have poured hundreds of hours. I felt tired thinking of the journey ahead! It will, however, be all worth it when I see the family move in. 

Blowing a fuse....On Thursday evening at the church we had three groups using the building. An AA group were upstairs in the drop-in centre. The women's tea (with men invited) were in the downstairs hall. The night shelter information night was happening in the church. I was sitting there in a support role while the chairman was talking. I was meant to come in with any extra material as he spoke. The door opened and my wife beckoned me over. She informed me that the lights and some of the heaters had gone off for both the tea and the AA. Could I find the fault and fix it?  I raced upstairs by the light of the little torch on my cell phone and checked a switch board. All was well. AA guys were unplugging heaters to lighten the load. I then raced down stairs to the basement area to check the switchboard.... blown fuse. I took it out (It was HOT!!) replaced the fuse wire and put it back in. Everyone was happy.... for about 30 seconds. ... bang! ... out it went again. I instructed my wife to lighten the load and replaced the wire again...30 seconds... I had not reached the top of the few stairs and .... bang! again. I laughed cynically and said, "I know how you feel fuse! Sometimes things get a little too much!... but PLEASE!!!" I replaced the wire... don't tell anyone but I added 5 amps more... (Don't worry, I took it out later) This time it stayed on and I felt soo clever. (It blew again the next night during Drop-in centre. ... Grrr)

After a week like that I am kind of glad that someone has wired me so that generally I can handle big loads. But I do think as you get older, sometimes you get closer to blowing a fuse than you used to. I will enjoy my day off tomorrow.

Photo: Mike and Christine dig the first bit of turf to start the "Build a house" journey. 

Friday, May 15, 2009

For "God"...

We had just finished the information night for about 30 volunteers interested in helping at the Night Shelter. We were tidying up and unwinding and my friend told me this cute but profound story. A man was visiting Mother Teresa and looking at the sorts of things she was doing. He was amazed and said, "I would not do this for all the money in the world!" Mother Teresa is reported to have just quietly said, "Neither would I."

My friend is a lovely guy heavely involved in a christian caring agency on a voluntary basis as well as his night shelter work. He told the story, paused briefly and said, "Well Dave, our lives would be much simpler if it wasn't for God." Its true, but they would also be less fulfilling.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Still little children

I loved the above cartoon in the Otago Daily Times this morning. In the previous cartoons the house has been robbed. Calvin leans on Hobbes for support, the mum leans on the dad for support and dad wonders who supports him. Here he is having a sleepless night and comes up with something that is funny, because it rings bells. I think it is true of so many of us. We try to come across as if we know it all, but in fact underneath we are insecure, struggling and often have more questions than answers. We do "Ad-Lib" life.

Well that's me anyway.... I have insights along the way but lots of questions and uncertainties. I see lots of people who I think are just as uncertain, and unsure but because they are adults, or male, or meant to be independent are hiding behind a facade of "certainty", "staunchness" "cynicism" and sometimes even, when we are really uncertain and scared, "anger". (To keep people at a distance) We have this concept that the truly successful person is a Clint Eastwood character, strong, independent and individualistic. It would not hurt us more often to say, "Help me", or "I don't know" or "I am scared" or "What do you think?" or something that connects us in honesty with others in this weird journey called life. I love the Robert Fulgrum sentence that concludes his bit of prose on "All I need to know I learned at Kindergarten". It runs something like this, "It is still true that when you go out into the world you need to hold hands and stick together." The trouble is most of us like to give the impression we don't need anyone else.

I like these photos....

Photos: Tekapo last Saturday afternoon. The same view on Sunday morning. Mount Cook (Aoraki) on Monday morning.

Monday, May 11, 2009

We are all different.

We are all different....

I was at a meeting for a local Habitat for Humanity committee. Participants were all in their late 50's through to late 60's. It turned out that a few of us had all had friends die recently and we were commenting on how that felt. We said that it made us realise that life is so so short. Our time with ones who had gone had seemed to fly... When deaths like these happen, it feels like life seems to fly by at a very fast pace. Especially as you get older, you begin to realise that whatever time you have remaining will be over soon enough.

We were busy planning the next Habitat build and one guy commented with words like ... "It makes you not want to muck around building stupid Habitat houses... you should be out enjoying life." When I heard this I realised how different we all are because my mind worked differently. I tend to think.... "Life is short, I haven't much time left to make a difference... I better get cracking and do some worthwhile stuff... like building Habitat houses." That's why I have been so frustrated, no one else seems to have the same sense of urgency.

Great scenery!

My wife and I have been married forty years! (10th May 1969) We were in a sense sent on a weekend trip to celebrate the fact. We made use of some holiday vouchers the kids gave us for my sixtieth birthday. It started badly... Friday was full of interruptions so we did not get away as early as we wanted. We drove up the road in shocking conditions and nearly ran off the road when the tyres did not want to take a sharp corner. Further up we encountered a major accident which was to block the road for three hours. We were so looking forward to a spa bath in a flash motel in Oamaru. Instead we had to make do with uncomfortable single beds with a toilet down the hall in a pub half way there! Saturday was good though. Our Christchurch son had gathered up our other son and his partner and driven the 200k down to lunch with us in Timaru... it was neat. We carried on to Lake Tekapo, a very picturesque place, especially with autumn colours still around. Next morning it was even more picturesque with a heavy dump of snow. We drove on carefully through the snow to Mount Cook, and pretended we were rich at the hermitage there for the night. Upon hearing it was our fortieth they upgraded us to a flash room with panoramic views on the sixth floor. Today's views of the country side, the snow and the mountains were out of this world! What a great privilege it is to live in such a beautiful country? Back to reality now though.... work tomorrow and the next forty years of married bliss.... or whatever remains.

As I was saying....life is short!

Forty years married? Really? It does not feel it! It feels like only yesterday I was that horny 20 year old bridegroom. Forty years has flown by and the truth is that if I am very fortunate I have only half of that time of living left! What have I done? Better get working!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

I can't believe it!

I read in the paper this morning something that makes my blood boil. In Brazil a step father had been sexually abusing a girl since she was 6 yrs old. At the age of 9 the girl fell pregnant as a result of his rape. The doctors said that if the baby went full term both girl and baby will die. An abortion was arranged for the girl. The catholic church excommunicated the mother for allowing her daughter to have an abortion! The same canon law said that the mother's "sin" or "crime" was worse than the step father's. He was not excommunicated! Grrrr!

I have some great catholic friends. I am impressed because often I find that people I work with in the community are catholic folk who have a real passion for justice, compassion and community service. BUT I find this sort of establishment focused, judgemental rigidity so foreign to the way of Jesus! I am not one who would advocate abortion be taken lightly and I do recognise that a choice for abortion should be considered a very serious step..... but really??......I just cannot understand how people in this day and age can come up with such crap! I would happily be excommunicated from a church like that! I cannot see Jesus condemning such an action! I am not even sure Jesus would advocate any sort of excommunication anyway! ...but I love my catholic friends.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

"Yeah gidday... how's it going?" ....WOW!

Any faithful readers of my blog probably get annoyed with my negativity. Well today there is none of that. I just strolled back from doing my workplace chaplaincy visit to the brewery. As I walked back along town in the sun I was thinking (to mutilate the words of a song) "I'm the luckiest man in the whole.... country!" I went along there and talked to different guys, and came away with a sense of the holy. It happened on Tuesday this week during my visits to St John Ambulance and at the fire stations. I can't tell you what people talked about in specifics, but just the events of their life, their health, their kids,... just "stuff". There were no big counselling issues or problems, but just significant interesting "stuff". After each session of chaplaincy this week I have come away thinking, "Wow! What a privilege to be a part of that!"

There is something precious and indeed sacred in conversation where one person meets another person and is "real" with another. I find it special to go to these places and people actually want to tell me about duck shooting, their projects, their kids etc. I think it is a great privilege to be allowed into their lives. I once said to a friend, "There is something sacred in 'hello' and 'have a good week' can be a heartfelt prayer". Never underestimate the power for support, affirmation and change in the normal conversation. "God" is somehow within the interaction.

Another song says, "I see friends shaking hands saying 'How do you do?', ...they're really saying 'I love you'" I think that is so right! Two friends at the brewery are always giving cheek to one another and they were in full flight this morning... they're really saying..."I love you". I love watching people interact in friendship, it is like watching God move. Once when I was a young minister at Palmerston North an elderly lady came out of the church after the service tut tutting away to herself. I asked her what the trouble was. Quite agitated she said, "Listen to them! Church is just finished and they are all talking! That's a sacred building! Can't they wait till they get outside?" I can't remember what I replied but these days I would want to say, "And that conversation is sacred."

I often hate my job and feel like a square peg in a round hole. But I stick at it because I very often just love my job. To murder yet another song, "People who meet people, are the luckiest people..." and I get paid to do that!


I have been thinking about starting another blog. I want to begin to write out my theology and do some heavy thinking. I prefer these posts to be short and light. Yesterday I met a guy who made me think about what "theology" is. He is a very intelligent and thoughtful man who used to come to our drop-in centre some years ago. He is a published author, so quite accomplished in his own right. I bumped into him at a bus stop and chatted briefly before he hopped on his bus. He asked me if I was still doing my thing up at the church. He then asked if they still move ministers on regularly and how that happened. He suggested that I might get invited elsewhere. I told him that my "theology" probably does not make me an attractive option for a lot of churches. "Theology?" he said, "Your theology is that you're a man of action, always have been... that's your theology!"
What is theology?

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Two Disappointments and a lesson on stress.

Every week lately seems to have had something extra in it which has meant normal work has had to fit around the extra. This week I hosted an inner-city ministers meeting. I took them up to the drop-in centre area... easy chairs, ready cup of tea etc.  The meeting went well... I was happy with it. I often do not feel at home with these religious people, they seem on a different planet than I.

Exercise disappointment. I walked last Sunday because my hamstring was sore and tight. Monday I split wood for some time and went for a bike ride, Wednesday I had a gym session and a run, running quite freely, Thursday though my hamstring was sore and tight. I ran to get the phone and discovered how sore it was. Friday a gym session... today we started to run but felt tight in the hamstring so apart from a small jog around a track, we walked up a hill. I will not be running a half marathon I had planned at the end of June. I need to rest my hamstring ... it is sooo disappointing! I wanted to run a half-marathon when I was sixty. 

Two training days.....Added into this week were two different training days or professional development days.  Friday saw me catching up with Workplace support chaplains. I enjoyed the catching up but was disappointed with the training. It was not bad, but I would say it was nice and "light" and OK for an adolescent youth camp, but somehow not solid enough for me. For me to give up a day of work results in a whole lot of added pressure on my week. If I give it up I want the time to be really meaty and useful. This day fell short of my expectations... not offensive nor real bad, but just not meaty enough to make me feel it was time well spent.  Saturday I spent on a training day with the peer support team from St John Ambulance and the Fire Service. I was dreading it thinking it would be another wasted day, but I was pleasantly surprised. The people who led it were excellent facilitators and I enjoyed the social interaction. I learned from it and had thoughts I had from my own experiences of dealing with Critical Incident Stress confirmed. I was pleased I went even though it made me tired and put added pressure on. 

Something to think about... The first session was on "stress" ... symptoms, internal and external pressures etc. I listed off so many of the symptoms it was not funny! And I live with them week in week out!  Stress is an imbalance between our challenges or tasks in life and our perceived ability to handle them. The woman leading it said that stress in life was like a cup. If we kept it at half full we can manage it and if new pressure comes on we have room to move. I realised that I live most of my life with the cup almost full. There are a lot of reasons for that. Ministry, 3 chaplaincies, Habitat for Humanity and Night Shelter Trust all make sure my weeks are full. I have a lack of confidence which means that even normal ministry/chaplaincy etc. functions are relatively stressful. I also have different expectations of "church" and so the compromises I make and the "square peg in a round hole" feeling add to stress. I also have high expectations of Habitat for Humanity and am frustrated with colleagues involved there. I had said to my wife at the end of Friday night, "I don't know how long I can keep doing this?!"  and "I am dreading Sunday!" So I have been asking myself, "How do I reduce the stress?" I really don't know what to cut out?

I know that my gym, running, mountain and biking help me cope.

I have a helpful formal supervisor and another informal weekly supervisor in my Sunday running friend.

I have an inner spiritual drive and sense of partnership that empowers and enables. But even given all these things I sense that I am pushing my luck and treading on thin ice. I am reviewing the situation.....  I do need a walk up the mountain though.... maybe tomorrow?