Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, August 31, 2009

"Missing anything?" - Blogging helps

You may have got the following story via email. I think it is doing the rounds.

Washington, DC Metro Station on a cold January morning in 2007. The man with a violin played six Bach pieces for about 45 minutes. During that time approx. 2 thousand people went through the station, most of them on their way to work. After 3 minutes a middle aged man noticed there was a musician playing. He slowed his pace and stopped for a few seconds and then hurried to meet his schedule.

4 minutes later:

the violinist received his first dollar: a woman threw the money in the hat and, without stopping, continued to walk..

6 minutes:

A young man leaned against the wall to listen to him, then looked at his watch and started to walk again.

10 minutes:

A 3-year old boy stopped but his mother tugged him along hurriedly. The kid stopped to look at the violinist again, but the mother pushed hard and the child continued to walk, turning his head all the time. This action was repeated by several other children. Every parent, without exception, forced their children to move on quickly.

45 minutes:

The musician played continuously. Only 6 people stopped and listened for a short while. About 20 gave money but continued to walk at their normal pace. The man collected a total of $32.

1 hour:

He finished playing and silence took over. No one noticed. No one applauded, nor was there any recognition.

No one knew this, but the violinist was Joshua Bell, one of the greatest musicians in the world. He played one of the most intricate pieces ever written, with a violin worth $3.5 million dollars. Two days before Joshua Bell sold out a theater in Boston where the seats averaged $100.

This is a true story. Joshua Bell playing incognito in the metro station was organized by the Washington Post as part of a social experiment about perception, taste and people's priorities.

The questions raised: in a common place environment at an inappropriate hour, do we perceive beauty? Do we stop to appreciate it? Do we recognize talent in an unexpected context?

One possible conclusion reached from this experiment could be this: If we do not have a moment to stop and listen to one of the best musicians in the world, playing some of the finest music ever written, with one of the most beautiful instruments ever made.... How many other things are we missing?

A great reminder isn't it?

I have been blogging for over a year now. It is a bit like an on line journal. But I have found that as I reflect on life to do a post I pick up things of beauty, kindnesses and affirmations in the midst of my life and taste them again. A good reason to blog.

Or you may want to just keep a journal, stop and reflect on your day or, as the old hymn suggests, "Count your blessings". Who ever thought blogging could be a spiritual exercise?

Monday burblings

It is Monday and I have had a day off ministry. I normally burble on Sunday evening but we were out for dinner.

Highlights from last week.

People sharing... On Wednesday we had the final of a "Healing Grief" series of three. It was a good evening and we felt sorry to break up. We had met for three weeks and shared some of our stories. I appreciated the way people shared. Some people have had a lot of "grief" in their life and yet stay positive. I decided that although my "griefs" are real, and need to be recognised, I have lived a relatively charmed life.

Giving Blood.... In spite of my age and the meds I am on the Blood Bank still want my blood. I try to be "cool" about this process but it does get at me these days. I have to fill out questions about where I have been, if I have had sex with a certain range of people and what medications I am on. They always take my blood pressure these days, "Because of your age." They ask questions like, "Did you handle you last donation OK?" like you are a feeble old man. This time the nurse didn't quite get the flow going from the vein in my right arm, so decided to try again in my left. So I came out with two patches and starting to feel a bit like a leper, having been scrutinised so carefully. 

Morning Soccer with "excluded people" was again a real privilege. Great fun to see the delight when people score a goal and great friendship. I was a bit stiff. 

Firefighters' Strike ... My firefighters are renegotiating their contract. In the process they feel that what is on offer from the fireservice is not acceptable and indeed a backing off on what had been promised or suggested. They had a low level strike action going with periodic refusals to do computer work, but I learned on Friday it has been stepped up. When I began in chaplaincy I walked into a long and bitter industrial battle at the firestations. The tension and anger was incredible and damaging to people, families and the whole tenor of the workplace. I HOPE it does not return to that sort of "negotiation". 

Warning of a Night off..... We are planning a bit of a break this coming weekend so we told the Drop-in centre people that we would be closing for next Friday night. Many expressed disappointment, even though they said things like, "You deserve a break." The most touching comment was from a Maori guy, who has sometimes called me a racist. He came up and shook my hand and asked, "Are you going to leave us Dave?" "No" I said, "Not yet, I am a bit like a bad penny, I keep turning up." He grinned and said, "That's good, you're pretty important to us." I got the message during the night that in spite of the fact that they seem to take us for granted, the Drop-in was an important part of their life.

Saturday confusing identity.... On Saturday I went to the Habitat site, put on my overalls and dug up a water pipe. With trucks crossing it the pipe had sprung a leak. I got wet and muddy repairing the pipe. I then helped start to put weatherboard on the house. I was annoyed. I think we need to mark out and prepare the walls before we turn volunteers loose on weatherboard. It makes it easier for them and helps them feel good about the work, rather than struggling to fix up muck ups. We had not done that so people were struggling with the tasks we were giving them. Today I have spent time alone on site redeeming the situation for next Saturday.

Just after midday I rushed home. Scrambled out of my muddy gear, showered, shaved, suited up, polished my shoes and headed in to conduct a wedding in the grounds of the University. I returned to Habitat after the wedding, then came home to work on power points for Sunday's service.

Who was I? The muddy plumber? The carpenter "team leader" showing people how to put on weatherboard? The celebrant? (I was asked to lead a secular ceremony) or the Church minister? I am glad to say, I was me, with the same motivations in my core being, expressing those passions in different ways.

Weddings annoy... Often the behaviour of people surrounding weddings annoy me. The purpose gets lost in the "production". The bride looks done up unrealistically, as do others in the wedding party. (There were nine croomsmen, in penguin suits, and nine bridesmaids!) If I got married again (a very unlikely scenario) it would be a small cosy, friendly affair.

Birthday gathering... On Sunday evening we were invited to a small gathering of Indian folk who were celebrating the birthday of one of the Indian women in our congregation. The food... delicious and generous. The hospitality... warm and inclusive.... if overly respectful (They insist on calling me "Pastor" and giving me all sorts of honour... first to get served, saying grace, leading a concluding prayer etc. etc.) It was just a nice warm night.

Exercise.. Sunday ... a walk. Monday... a bike ride. Wednesday.. walking group (slow walk) and a run... Thursday ... soccer. ... Friday.. Table Tennis... Saturday... Building work...Sunday... a walk.

I grump and I growl, but I lead an interesting, charmed and privileged life really.

Photo: Returning to the Habitat site after the wedding.


Saturday, August 29, 2009

I love this sermon...

In Church this morning we had a clip from the film "Chocolat". It is the Easter Sunday sermon by the young priest in the village Church. I love it because it latches on to the spirit of a positive Jesus centred spirituality. Here is what he says.

"I am not sure what the theme of my homily today should be. Do I want to speak of the miracle of our Lord's divine transformation? Not really no. I don't want to speak of his divinity, I'd rather talk about his humanity. I mean... you know... how he lived his life here on earth. His kindness. His tolerance."

Listen... Here's what I think. I think we can't go around measuring our goodness by what we don't do. By what we deny ourselves, what we resist and who we exclude. I think we've got to measure goodness by what we embrace. What we create and who we include."

You can watch an extended clip on U tube...


Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Not normal but happy to be.

I had two interesting encounters today.

1st.  I had just returned to my office from chaplaincy at the ambulance headquarters and there was a series of loud bangs on my outside door. It was a man I will call "Fred". Fred is very intelligent, but has some mental health issues which makes him hard to get along with. He fires straight from the shoulder, if he thinks you are a fool he will leave you in no doubt about the fact. He also has a loud voice and M.E. He keeps getting kicked out of groups he attends. In spite of this tendency I have always had a soft spot for Fred. He once called me his only friend. I had not seen him for a while so he was just catching up. In he walked with his dog and sat down in a chair and started in telling me stuff as if we had been talking all day. In the last couple of years he has discovered the Internet and has done a heap of stuff. He reads feverishly, has definite political opinions, a real sense of justice and if you want to argue with him you have to know your stuff and be prepared to listen to colourful descriptions of people. He is entertaining. He kicked me out of my office chair and took over my computer to show me all the stuff he had done on Mythology and ancient cultures etc. Incredible stuff he had uploaded with various links to other sites etc. Amongst his stuff I came across this quotation which tickled my fancy....

"To be normal is the ideal of unsuccessful people." from Carl Jung

I am not sure I am successful... but I know I am not normal. :-) He wasted an hour of my precious time, he is blunt and "out there", but in a weird sort of way I find Fred refreshing.

2nd  On my way home tonight at about 9:30 p.m. I picked up a teenage guy who was hitching a ride out to the suburb just past where I live. He climbed into the van and talked about the weather. Then said a conversation opener that I notice many people use these days, "Have you had a busy day?" I responded,"Yes it has been fairly full on." giving nothing away at all. .... silence.... then, "What is it that you do?"  I groaned inwardly, I hate that question.  "I am a church minister." I replied. "Awe shit! Is that for real?" he said. I think at that stage he wanted to extract himself from the van. I told him about the chaplaincies also. "No shit?" he said, "What do you do there?" So the questions kept coming. "How come you got into the church?" "Why do you do it?" "Do you have a partner... like a wife?" "I thought priests couldn't marry?" It was so much fun, the drive home went fast.  I got to tell him about Habitat for Humanity, the Night Shelter, the drop-in and the Ocean Grove group (since I was just coming home from it.)  His last statement was, "Hey thanks for the ride. Shit you do good stuff! See yah."

See I am not normal, when I said I was a minister, he said, "Awe Shit!"  If I was still a plumber I would not get that response. I think it surprised him. My old van is full of carpentry tools at the moment so I guess he would not expect a minister to be driving something like that.

Photo: A strange place for a minister to be found.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

A good weekend...

Depression.... I have been sitting watching a documentary on "depression". It said "One in five people battle with it." It gave descriptions and told stories of suicide etc. I decided to stop watching... too close to home and too ... well "depressing".  If the descriptions they give are true, I battle some sort of depression. The stories rang bells.... though I think I have learned to manage the bouts and just dig deep and plod on, with support. (A few weeks ago I really got depressed) But I am thankful this weekend. A few things have felt good.

Habitat for Humanity house....We are building a house in Half-way bush with a Maori family with a lot of kids. They are delightful people to work with and of course, all the extended whanau join in. We have had some great days on site but yesterday, Saturday was one of those good days when things went especially well. 

On Friday a few of us went up over lunch hour to fix some things before a building inspection. It passed the inspection which enabled us to be clear to put the roof on. I stewed about how we were going to do it and turned up on Saturday ready for work. We measured and drilled the iron. The wind grew in intensity and we thought it was probably blowing too much to do the job. My friend Richard said, "Let's give it a go, aye? What's the worst that can happen?" There seemed to be a lot of people turning up to work so we had enough people to help. We set up a team and began. The first sheet went on without too much of a hitch. The second also... but suddenly there was a crash. One sheet had blown away and crashed to the ground, denting badly. I began to think the worst, but we were making steady progress. We sat Martin on the pile of iron to act as a "paper weight". Then Tony a roofer turned up and got us more organised. We felt more confident and we worked our way down one side of the house. ... "lunch time!" I thought. We agreed to stop for lunch... but roofer man Tony said he had to go soon... so we buckled down and started the other side. We had everybody on site working like a well oiled machine, under Tony's direction. It was such a great experience, Paper... Iron... screws... paper.. iron ... screws.. and within a short time the second half of the house was covered and we did stop for lunch. I must admit to feeling worn out! After a bite to eat I was catching my breath and two young guys said, "What now boss?" (I am third in line to being boss actually) They were so keen. I thought up a couple of jobs and immediately all hands ripped into it with great gusto. Martin got prepared and in time got crew wrapping up the house. Having done the roof, everyone was buzzing. The positive energy was incredible, people from children through to the oldest adult were looking for ways to help. We had over thirty volunteers that day. It was soo good. A landscaper was driving past and dropped in to offer to help with the landscaping. He caught the bug and ended up hammering away there. "I just dropped by to talk?" he said. I had to laugh. I was hammering ceiling battens next to him, and he asked, "Are you really a Pastor?" I get asked that a lot.... maybe its because sometimes a swear word slips out??  I dropped off the scaffold into the house toward the end of the day and saw Mike, the house owner wandering through his house looking. "How are we Mike?" I asked. "Oh boy" he replied, "I am so stoked! It is so great!" As people left I tried to thank them for their work. Often the reply was, "No.. thank you! That was great!" Two students who come regularly were saying goodbye. I said, "Thanks guys, we did well, I hope you enjoyed it?" "That was great! Today was a real blast! See you next week." It was just one of those days. I am a bit stiff and sore today, but the whole experience made me feel good about humanity, God and the world in general. Even my fights about Church music were forgotten.

Today was good... Spring is nearly here and it is good to wake up knowing that you are not going to have to contend biting winds and ice or snow. I thought I did a good job this morning at church. I got some positive feed back. A nice walk/run in the sun with good conversation this afternoon completed a weekend that made me feel good about my life, but ready for a relaxing day off tomorrow. I have also had good telephone conversations with my three sons. It is so good that they want to catch up on their old man.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Grrrrr! I don't get it?

I have had an "intense discussion" with one of my musicians and I am angry, upset and feel like telling everyone to get stuffed. There are several issues as I see them.

First: I must admit openly that I do not like organs as an instrument. On Sunday mornings when I hear the organ begin I get a ball in my stomach that is getting worse. When I went to graduation services at the Town hall, when the organ cranked up I was just about physically urged to run away, the sound was sooo repulsive to my ears. (When that stopped the bagpipes started!) In the 1990's I went to a seminar on leading worship that will attract people in our day and age. The leadership of the seminar had done research and surveyed a cross section of the NZ population and 96% of the population did not like organ music. I am not alone. I recall having a visitor to see me at the church one day while my organist was playing. I met him in the car park and led him through the church building. When I got to the door of the chapel and opened it he took a step in and immediately stepped back. "Oh I hate that!" he said. "What?" I asked. "The organ music! It reminds me of when you die." I had to lead him around to the office the other way, so deep was his repulsion.

Second: As you may guess my "discussion" was about "church Music" preferences. I don't think we are good at looking at things from another person's perspective. We are not good at putting ourselves in the skins of people who hate organ music and trying to fathom what "worship" is like for them. That's what I learned from my discussion. But this applies to lots of things. What is it like not being able to read? What is it like not being able to get a job? What is it like being a woman in various circumstances? etc. We could go on... but I just think we all at times find it hard to put ourselves in someone elses shoes, and so we causes "differences".

Thirdly: All of my ministry life I have found myself being piggy in the middle about Church music. Number one... I have had a guts full of being piggy in the middle! Number 2... in the big scheme of things, when Jesus' priorities are taken into account, it is just not worth arguing about! Get a life for petes sake! That's why I have put up with organ music. I know the old people have grown up with it so I have not rocked the boat... but when I do try variation I get drawn into this useless, waste of energy... arguing about music.

Fourthly: I guess one of my problems is that I just don't get worship! It does little for me. And it does even less for me when I am aware of the different tastes and am constantly trying to please people. Now I lead worship. I am a better than average leader of worship. I believe I communicate in a way that get's people on board and encourages or challenges people. But I still think that for many people worship is "spiritual masturbation", trying to get their jollies in a way that was never meant to give satisfaction and is often an avoidence of the real thing. I played soccer with IHC and excluded people this morning. Watching people come out of their shell, enjoy their God-given bodies, encouraging them in that, gave me much more inspiration than any worship does. Feeling I have been there for someone; watching people from the community sitting in Space2B sharing their joys and sorrows; making progress, laughing, sweating and aching muscles on a Habitat house; these sorts of things are "worship", are inspiration, learning and edification for me! They give me a real sense of partnership and participatiion with the Sacred one! Give me those over any worship service, whatever the instrument of preference! This is REAL worship and sunday worship a faint shadow of reality.

(I once had a good, flexible, skilled organist in the Levin church who had a feel for worship. She played along with a bass guitarist and that was beautiful. We also talked and dialogued our way through worship which was meaningful. We stopped and prayed for each other. We thought up relevant songs on the spot sometimes. It was the closest I have come to authentic worship in a church.)

I wonder?: This is probably shocking and heresy. In four years time I retire. Though I have led worship all my life, I really doubt that I will attend worship when I retire. Don't get me wrong. I will still "believe" and I will still be involved in Christian "ministry" and "mission", but worship in any church setting these days has almost become so repulsive to me that I can't see me fitting in anywhere. Weird??? And "music" and being "piggy in the middle" for so long has done that to me! Far from being inspiring, encouraging and building me up, it has the opposite effect, thanks to people who endlessly choose to argue about it.

I feel better now that I have that off my chest. I am off to a night shelter Trust Board meeting, then a Habitat for Humanity meeting. Better than choosing songs for Sunday... I HATE IT!

Upset and stewing...

I am upset and stewing over a meeting I had today... it is so distracting I can't work properly. I may tell you about it, but for now I came across this prayer that I thought might amuse you...

From silly devotions
and from sour-faced saints,
good Lord, deliver us.

- Teresa of Avila, 16th-century theologian.
Quite cute isn't it. :-)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

What am I devoted to?

I have had a difference of opinion with a man in the upper hierarchy of Habitat for Humanity NZ. We ended up our to-and-fro correspondence a bit more amicably but I was talking over the difference with another guy today. He told me that he had spent time with the gentleman and reported that he was "totally devoted to Habitat for Humanity". I said that I never doubted that but as I said that, a light went on in my head and I had an epiphany.  I will explain my epiphany but need to say it does not necessarily apply to the man I had the difference with.

My epiphany is that a person can be totally devoted to Habitat for humanity but that should not be where his primary devotion should be. Habitat for Humanity is an organisation. If one is devoted to the organisation, it could quite easily drag you away from actually helping people in a respectful way. The organisation becomes all important, and the people can become secondary. You could make decisions (subtle though the distinction may be) that support and aid Habitat for Humanity as an organisation, but could be harmful, less respecting of and not loving toward people, the organisation is set up to help. I would much rather a person be devoted to loving people first, and then see the organisation of Habitat for Humanity as a way of giving expression to that love. There is to me a subtle, but very important difference and often different outcomes. Habitat for Humanity can become an end in itself, and not the people it is intended to assist. A devotion to people first, and a more objective devotion to the organisation would help the organisation be more critical of itself and its directions.

Likewise I have seen people who you could say were devoted church members. They are active in the church. They support the church, make decisions for the good of the church and are concerned for the teachings of the church. They can be elders, deacons and ministers of the church. But these same people are not devoted to loving people. I would prefer people be first and foremost devoted to expressing Jesus' love for people, and see the church as a vehicle, or "the Body of Christ" for expressing that love. The decisions they make about church life and their priorities for the church will be very different. The things they get upset about will be different. The life and focus of their church will be different.

Let me say also that it can happen, because it happens to me, that we can start out with the right motivations, but the whole process of running an organisation can mean that we drift off the target. We are distracted from the important priorities and the organisation can slowly take over in our thinking.

That's my epiphany... it is not the first time I've had it, but a light went on in my head as I put the phone down after this conversation I had about my problems with the hierarchy and the directions it was taking for the organisation. The Apostle Paul had similar epiphanies, just read 1st Corinthians 13. 

I have often said that I feel called to the people of the city of Dunedin, and the St Andrew Street Church of Christ is the base through which I work. I am devoted to the church, but my prior devotion is to the people of the city, the church is the vehicle through which I assist the "Sacred" to reach out in love. I don't feel called to "the church", but rather called to express the love of Jesus in Dunedin, and hopefully through what happens in the church. If however, the church somehow prevents me doing that, I would move on from there. It is not my primary focus.

I don't know if that makes sense to anyone else. Here is a link to a parable I use to remind myself of this message.  http://www.intervarsity.org/slj/article/4249/


Sunday, August 16, 2009

Week's end report...

I have come to an end of another busy week. 

Space2B We started an aspect of church life earlier in the year, that I have a dream will evolve into a different shaped church. We open the back part of our church up for two hours at lunch time and people can come in, have a drink and relax. We called it "Space2B". As well as this we want to attach to Space2B workshops or projects that serve needs in the community. Well in the week just past two projects have come to fruition. Last week we opened up our Church on Wednesdays as a resource centre for new settlers to come, get information and make social contacts. (Settlement resource@Space2B) We had our grand opening which was fine, but this last Wednesday was the first real day. There was a number of people who came and went throughout the time, people shared stories and resources. As I sat there I thought, "It's working!". It will be the first of other projects which will evolve around Space2B. The second was a "Healing Grief" group that started. It felt "right" and again we hope it will be the first of a whole lot of workshops we will explore together. I am watching members of the community relaxing and relating in positive, healthy, life-giving ways in this old church. It feels "right".

New faces There are some new faces in church. It would be nice to have a "growing church". I know that bums on pews are not what its all about, but it is nice if you feel new people are appreciating what you are doing.

Night Shelter Street Appeal. On Friday morning and Saturday morning I collected for the night shelter. I stood on a street corner (Friday) and hardware store entrance way (Saturday) holding a bucket, eyeballing people in the hope that they would give me some spare change for the night shelter. It is an interesting study in human behaviour. I could write a thesis on "100 ways to avoid eye contact with a street collector!" People looked soo funny avoiding me and nearly died when I said a cheery "Good morning" as they walked past. I think I would have been better to have donated the piddly little amount I collected and spent Saturday morning at the Habitat site. As it was I received several phone calls from there during the over two hour stint, and the question, "When can you get here?" 

Friendships I am not good at making friends but I think I have a few more than I realise. This week a number of people I have thought of as aquaintances have made offers or conversed as if they saw me as a friend. It is nice to know you are accepted. Friends you can relax with and talk openly with are so good... I think I am a loner but I experienced warmth of support from a few people this week which made me feel like maybe I am not so odd afterall.

Drop-in Centre I have told you about the tension filled nights at our drop-in centre with arguments and fights. I threatened to shut the centre, but on Friday evening we had a peaceful night, and some warm contacts. I had people come to me and plead with me saying, "You wouldn't shut it down on us would you? What would we do without it?" I had one guy ask me how long we had run it. I replied, "Just over fourteeen years." He looked at me with admiration and said, "Well done. That's a bloody good effort. It's a good show." 

Summary: I have dreams, and hunches for how to express the Christian faith today... how to be the "church". I am often at odds with the "normal" perpectives for what should happen in a successful church, and I often think, "Am I off the wall? Crazy? or really missing the point for being and doing who I am?" This past week there were enough glimpses to suggest that maybe I am not so crazy. Next week might be different though.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Soccer blast...

I play soccer with a group of people, some with intellectual disabilities, others with mental health issues. It is an hour of pure fun. A lovely lady Johanna from PACT convenes it and there are a few care workers join in the fun. They are to me, "Soccer Saints". They love the people they have responsibility for.

It is such a blast! All of us trying our best to get the ball into the opposition goal. It is good also to see people sharing the ball around, great to see the absolute joy when someone gets a goal or some other manages even just to stop the ball and kick it in the right direction. They clap one another even when the good player is on the other team. We have to be a bit flexible on the rules, but it is great to be with people who just play sport for the sheer enjoyment. They compete, but at the same time it is just fun! I do it because I think it is good to encourage these guys' fitness, but I am finding I do it just because I enjoy it. I laughed, as I left today a voice from in their van called out, "See ya old man!" I'll beat him in Table Tennis at the drop-in, just wait and see.

We are hoping to take a team to a street footy tournament in Wellington in November. We are also eyeing up the Masters Games. Watch this space... it will happen.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009


While I was writing the last post I thought of this poem. I have recently watched a film called "Putting Homelessness in focus", about homeless people in NZ. I have to take part in a Night Shelter Street Appeal this Friday and Saturday so I have been thinking of how this poem fits homeless and excluded people. It is called "Indifference". I have heard it said that "indifference" is the true opposite of "love". We often think "hate" is, but hate at least still treats the person as a person. "Indifference" or "apathy" treats them as a nobody.... as if they did not exist. ("I am!" I cried, to no one there.... says the song) Anyway the poem by G.A.Studdart-Kennedy.

When Jesus came to Golgotha they hanged him on a tree,
They drave great nails through hands and feet, and made a Calvary;
They crowned him with a crown of thorns, red were his wounds and deep,
For those were crude and cruel days, and human life was cheap.

When Jesus came to Birmingham,
(insert any Western City e.g. Dunedin. NZ.) they simply passed him by, They never hurt a hair of him, they only let him die; For men had grown more tender, and they would not give him pain, They only just walked down the street, and left him in the rain.

Still Jesus cried, "Forgive them for they know not what they do," And still it rained the winter rain that drenched him through and through; The crowds went home and left the streets without a soul to see, And Jesus crouched against a wall and cried for Calvary.

Monday, August 10, 2009

"I am, I cried..."

I enjoyed a day off today. I split wood, tidied up my workshop a little and then went on a bike ride. While you split wood and ride, you think. I have been thinking about my drop in people and others. 

My drop-in centre people are really quite sad. (see previous post) It is sometimes hard to strike up any sort of longish conversation with them because they have NOTHING in their lives. Just survival. Trying hard to be "normal".

I have a friend whose son was the victim of an unprovoked attack by fellow school pupils last week. He was left beaten and unconscious. Why? From my contact with him he is the nicest inoffensive young man. A guy walked up to him and said, "Do you want a fight?" Of course he said "no" but was attacked anyway and it was recorded on cell phones. The offenders are too young to go to court. Good grief!

Tonight as I rode home looking forward to a relaxing night, I received a message from my wife. She would not be home when I got home. She had received a phone call. A lady we know, a mother of several children, was drunk and was threatening suicide. So my wife took off to see if she could sort her out, or prevent the tragedy. Relaxing night gone! 

Because of what I do I often touch the fringe of a big group of unseen tragic lives. Most of us live our lives with ups and downs, but basically live fairly comfortably and assume everyone else in NZ has a similar life style. But I sense a large group of people who live lives of desperation, going from crisis to crisis and causing untold pain and suffering as they go. My drop-in people who are arguing, fighting, being stabbed, getting pregnant, drugged or whatever; the perpetrators of the bashing on my friend's son; the lady who threatened suicide and others I hear of through both fire and ambulance are examples of this group. Most christian people prefer not to know of their existence. The "Once were Warriors" film exposed some of this. Life in "Godzone" is not all bliss.

"I am!" I cried... As I encounter or hear of incidents and behaviour I cannot help but feel like many of these lost forgotten people at the bottom of the knowledge, income and "whatever" heap are desperately crying out "I AM"! It is the sort of anger, frustration or feeling of being "nothing" that I sense in Neil Diamond's song "I am I cried..."  (  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mwircEDCss8 )  One of the young women fighting at the drop-in said, "I have been trying to get pregnant for three years! Now I am but could lose my baby because of you!" She turned to an ex-boyfriend and derisively said, "I couldn't get pregnant with YOU!"  Why? Why does she who can't look after herself, want to look after a baby? Is she saying "I AM!"? The people picking fights, are they saying, "I AM!"? The illiterate men who drink too much and get stroppy, (one of my friends got stabbed last week) are they in their way saying "I AM!"? ..... "By God you'll notice me!" The couple I know who are heavily in debt, had their over priced car repossessed, lost their job through a stint in prison, are they not trying to say "I AM!" ? They and so many I know, are desperately trying to be, look, "normal" when their bank balance, their abilities, their education and sometimes intellect doesn't allow it. Some of the biggest, most verbose, most belligerant "know-alls" I know are people who are virtually illiterate. "I am!" they cry. Lives wasted. Lives with no sense of hope. What are we doing in our lifestyle that so many need to yell, "I AM!"?

We pay somehow... I think of schools desperately needing help with children with special needs who don't get the funding they need. I think of cuts in mental health budgets. I know that there is a long waiting list for counselling for alcohol problems. I know of people living desperate lives with insufficient support. People wandering the streets who struggle for the necessities of life. Who need more supervision and guidance in their life. We think we save money by these cuts. We think we save money when there are gross inequalities. But let me say, I believe we pay somewhere down the track! May be the mental health budget looks good, but the justice system pays and prisons are full. Maybe we can turn a blind eye to the inequalities, but we suffer in vandalism, theft, and violence. Somewhere in the hurt to human life, in the lack of safe communities, in the law and order budgets, in the long run we pay for the neglect of the more vulnerable struggling people in our community. It would be best to pay upfront to help them live fuller, more dignified lives.

I watched one of our drop-in people watching TV once. He is a very intelligent man who was Dux of his secondary school. Because of his parents actions and various events he has some mental health issues. At one commercial break he watched adverts for new cars and overseas travel. The "cut price" deals were something he could never have. In anger he picked up his bag and threw it at the TV.... "Bastards!" he yelled. That's what I see happening again and again. That anger and frustration at the unfairness of life being expressed.

That's why I run the drop-in centre, work on Habitat for Humanity houses, helped start the night shelter, play soccer with excluded people and still push the Jesus lifestyle. I am trying to make life better for more people. I am trying to say, "You ARE!" and "Someone cares".

But sometimes it would be nice just to forget the forgotten ones and stay in my castle with the drawbridge up. Sometimes all I see is shit and flys, and I get tired.


Sunday, August 9, 2009

Weekend burblings

I am relaxing after yet another busy week.

Drop-in centre blues.

Let me tell you about our drop-in centre people. It is really hard to describe because there are a variety of people there. They arrive at 6:30, they are offered food, often sausages, bread, sandwiches and filled buns. Sometimes it is vege soup, or savaloys and sometimes they have portions of pie donated from a local bakery. We have an urn going and they can drink as much coffee, milo and tea as they want along with orange drink. A TV goes on the platform, there are two pool tables, a table tennis table and easy chairs arranged around coffee tables. There are usually sweeter cakes, biscuits and buns produced during the night. We shut up shop at 9:30 p.m. and it is all free. 

We have a number of mental health patients come. There are some folk with intellectual disability. There are people with alcohol and drug problems. We have three young children aged from 13months through to 9 years who are regulars. There are a lot of "lost souls". I am not sure what else to call them. Some may not have high IQ's but they are not handicapped. They are older teenagers through to young adults, unemployed and most probably unemployable. They are drop-outs from the education system. Most often tattooed, "stroppy", poor, suspicious of authority figures, and yet with a lostness and sadness in their eyes that makes your heart break. They often tend to put each other down. It is like they are saying, "I may not be much, but at least I am not as cracked as her!" They sometimes tend to be paranoid, and think others are talking about them. 

These later trends often result in tense times at drop-in centre. In the last few weeks it has been an ongoing build up. A group will sit together passing snide comments about others. The "others" will burst out in anger saying, "come outside and we'll sort this out!" or sling a whole lot of obscenities. The first group will plead innocence, but it all makes for unpleasant times. My wife often settles things down in a motherly way with an early quiet word to one or two, but in recent weeks the newer people have not respected her efforts. I stepped in on Friday night and just said if behaviour did not improve, I would close the drop-in. It is useless trying to sort out who said what to who. I ended up on the footpath outside standing in the middle of a group helping them to talk it out. I don't know what Friday night shoppers thought about this white haired old man standing amongst these scary young adults? I told these young people that I had run the drop-in for nearly fifteen years and I had only ever thrown one man out. I said that my reasoning was that I think we have to be accepting of people, but that meant that we ALL had to be tolerant of one another and not put each other down. If we don't we muck the night up for everyone. I don't know if they listened or not, but some left and it was quieter. Don't tell them, but I will probably never shut it down... but it does get difficult.

Smacking referendum... After it quietened down on Friday night, I got asked about the smacking referendum we have to vote on. We got talking and it would break your heart the stories of child abuse that came out. One after the other these people told their stories. It was sad listening. Often it is thought that it is a problem just among lower socio-economic levels of the community. One of these stories came from a lady whose father was a lawyer. Another came from a doctor's child. We have to change the way we do things. I see the ruined lives.

Habitat for Humanity... We had a great day at the Habitat for Humanity site. We all worked very hard together putting the roof framing in place. We finished about 3:30 with very sore bodies, nailing arms and backs, but with a deep sense of achievement. It was one of those good days. One interesting encounter I had was with Ray a plumber who is helping us out. He is now a plumbing inspector.  I got talking to him and told him I used to be a plumber, but changed careers.  "Oh yes" he said, "Too hard?" ...more as a statement than a question. He continued, "I worked at plumbing for 30 years... it is pretty hard!"  I was momentarily flumixed by the comment and not sure how to answer, especially after my Friday night Drop-in centre adventures.   My friend Martin started laughing, and said, "Not nearly as hard as what he does now!" "What do you do?" Ray said. "I'm a minister... give me plumbing any day. Pipes stay where you put them." I responded. Martin informed him that I was "not your usual sort of minister". I'm not sure what he meant by that??? 

I have tomorrow off but another busy week ahead. Every night out, a new "Healing Grief" series to share in, the night shelter street appeal to do and a busy weekend where I have to do the things my daughter and son-in-law usually do for me. Wish me luck.

Photo: Right to left. My friends Martin, Jane, Allan (one of my church elders) and then me. The tattoos belong to Mike.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Professional loneliness".... but...

I am re-reading Henri Nouwen's book, "The Wounded Healer". In it he talks about the minister experiencing "Professional loneliness". I identified with what he said, that's how I felt Tuesday night and Wednesday morning. He has this sentence which rang bells with me...

"Many Churches decorated with words announcing salvation and new life are often little more than parlors for those who feel quite comfortable in the old life, and who are not likely to let the minister's words change their stone hearts into furnaces where swords can be cast into plowshares, and spears into pruning hooks."

I know I am a bit of an "oddball" but often I find it difficult to find people in the congregation or leadership who are on the same wavelength and it can feel very lonely.

But... yesterday I walked a half a block from the church to a store to buy something. On the way there I was warmly greeted by a retired fire officer. I remembered times I had spent with him. He emerged once from a burning house and called me in to give support to the owner. It was interesting.
I carried on to the store and the cashier was Ben, a young man I first met as a 13 year old at our Ocean Grove program. I taught him to play table tennis and pool. I recall we talked schooling, homework, sport and life in general. It was quite neat, the cashier in the next till offered to serve me because he was free, but Ben said, "No I will serve that man!" He told me all about his 16 month old son, his partner and their plans for a wedding.
On the way back to the office I was greeted warmly by the owner of the first Habitat for Humanity house in Dunedin. I recall it took us about 2 years to build it. His wife made lovely scones. It was a steep learning curve. But once again, it was nice to be greeted so warmly.

I experience loneliness in ministry, yet in a short walk down the street I encounter 3 people who I have a positive "history" with and am greeted warmly by. It really is a privilege.

No sex!?

I was among a group of guys recently. One of the guys, a good deal younger than I, with a bit of humour was telling us a story about an experience he had.  As he told his story another interjected and jokingly suggested that at this point in the story he was probably having sex with his wife. "No", said our story teller, "We've been married 29 years, there's none of that these days!"

Good Grief! I think that's sad. I hear it often. Couples sleeping in separate beds, even separate bedrooms, and married men, still relatively young, saying it's a distant memory.  I guess each to their own, but I see making love as a great "gift of God" to be relished and enjoyed. Its the way adults keep playing together and ensures a certain bonding. It releases tension and I think I read some where, helps our immune system. Maybe I am immature? ... but I still like it and I have been married 40 years!

We are all different. There are no rules or performance requirements. So long as both are happy with what happens.  I am thankful to be where I am though. I wish, however, when people mention that they have stopped "having it", that they would not assume that it is inevitable. It is often just assumed that if you hang around with the same woman long enough you stop "doing it".  The reason they give is the length of time they have been married, and it is assumed that is true for everyone. They may choose that way, but don't expect it to be inevitable for everyone.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Space 2B

Earlier this year we opened up our church building as a venue we called "Space2B". We have an old church building in the centre of town and we felt we wanted it used by and for the community. So we started "Space 2B".

First it is a place where people can meet. We have it open every week day from 12 - 2p.m. with coffee machine going, hot and cold drinks available. Our aim is that there will be people who want to come in and use it as a place to make contact, rest up in the middle of their day, and feel at home. They can bring their lunch and eat it with company. Slowly we are building up a small group who use it like that.

Secondly we want Space 2B to evolve with various workshops and useful ventures attached to it. We are starting workshops next week in the evenings on "Healing Grief", where we will be thinking about loss, whether it be loss of a job or a loved one. We are looking to share in sustainable living workshops also in the near future.

We were approached by a lady who had come to NZ as a displaced person from Zimbabwe. She has been in Dunedin some time and has been involved with new immigrants to the country. She wondered if we could become a resource centre for new immigrants. So today we had a successful launch of Settlement Resource@Space2B. We will be open every Wednesday from 11 a.m. till 3 p.m. with a particular focus for new settlers. They are welcome to come, we will have resources and information available for them. Today many people gathered from various agencies who said that this was a "dream come true", a "much needed resource" and such like. I was astounded by the warmth with which the idea was received. As I met them I became aware that for so many of them, some where in my life I had met them before. They knew me or knew of me. We have a man, Noel Tiano, working part time for the church who has set this up. I think as a church we have gained credibility in our community, which is quite hard in our secular-church-phobic community.

It is a step along the way to forming a "differently shaped - community orientated church community". The potential is amazing. I hope we end up as a Church of Christ Community with lots of little purposeful bits and groups "hanging off us" meeting a variety of needs. For now it was just heart warming to see the church with people from the community relaxing, laughing and affirming the church.

We have a long way to go, but perhaps this is one big step at the start of the journey.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Week's end report - Not as young anymore...

Once again I have had a busy week without a true day off. I had a big funeral last Saturday for a woman I had known most of my life and I have been feeling a bit drained, I suspect as a reaction to it. We had the crematorium bit of the service on Monday morning, usually my day off. Other work for the church followed.

Also I have not been sleeping well. I drop off to sleep quickly but wake at about 2:30 for a "pit stop" and just don't get back to sleep until its time to be getting up. My mind, after a bit of sleep wakes up and I start stewing on things; work to do, things I ought to be doing, things I have not done etc. etc.  So I lack sufficient sleep.

We have been finding work around the church for a guy on a community service sentence, and this has added a bit of extra work and responsibility for both my wife and I. He has, however, been a hard worker, which has not been the case when I have done such supervision before. 

On Friday night the Drop-in centre people were like little kids. The police were called to some of our drop-in women having a difference of opinion on the footpath even before we opened. There was another exchange of unpleasantries at the pool table and others putting others down. One man was drunk, happy but disruptive. Another ran out of petrol and money and was asking for help. Not a great night. I was angry at the end of it and suggesting we close the drop-in down for a night or two "to teach them a lesson". I wont do it, but that's how I was feeling.

On Saturday we had a great day at the Habitat for Humanity site. We did ceiling battens and put trusses up. I was fulfilling a pivotal role of leadership, running on pure adrenalin, enjoying myself but lifting heavy weights, clambering around frame work and working hard. My muscles are sore, knee joints aching and arms feel like lead weights. 

Today I lead a service trying to explain essentially two verses of scripture; 

"Why spend money on what does not satisfy? Why spend your wages and still be hungry? Listen to me and do what I say, and you will enjoy the best of food?" ... Isaiah 55: 2


"Do not work for food that spoils; instead, work for food that lasts for eternal life." John 6:27

I wanted to communicate the experience of Jesus when he said; "My meat is to do the will of my Father." But I looked at the congregation and thought "This is beyond their experience. How do I explain the inexplicable? It has to be discovered in life somehow." 

In the service at one stage I had a mental block... a verse I wanted would not come to mind! I knew it but my mind could not find it. I am physically tired and stiff but still restless and stewing. Just maybe at nearly sixty one I am pushing myself a bit much? I still have the same idealism, passions and dreams of a young minister. I still want to "change the world" "make a difference", but sometimes feel my old body letting me down.

The week ahead:

Monday: hopefully some work on a Habitat house that will enable me to cross another job off my "to do" list that I stew on at night. I will have some time off!

Tuesday - Sunday: Normal chaplaincies, Sunday service; Habitat on Saturday; Launch of a new project on Wednesday; Walking Group Wednesday; Church board meeting on Tuesday; Night Shelter Trust meeting Thursday; Prepare and record a radio service some time; Friday run a seminar/debrief for chaplains who have lost chaplaincies; Drop-in centre Friday night; Enough to keep me out of trouble this week. Enough to keep me young. :-)

Photos: A couple of shots of Saturday's Habitat for Humanity fun.