Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, November 29, 2009

What if my time is up?

Last night at various times during the night I had some sharp sudden chest pains. They hit, woke me up and left again. I don't think it is anything serious but it gets you thinking. My dad died in his late forties because of heart troubles, I have medication for high blood pressure and have been told that I may have an enlarged heart. All this means that in the middle of the night when chest pains hit, you begin to wonder. After initially worrying about the prospects of a heart attack, I then realised that I could do nothing about it. (I could hardly rush to the emergency department and say, "I had this pain for a few seconds, it's not there now, but what is it?") I got to thinking about my life. What if I was hit by a heart attack? Maybe it would mean the end of my energetic lifestyle and my activities would be curtailed? Or maybe it could be the end of me? That led me to reviewing my life to date.

I decided that I have few regrets. I would like to have read and studied more but other things would have had to suffer if I did that. I wished I was more encouraging toward my children, but I don't think I was too nasty. As I looked back on my life I guess I would have to say that I lived well. Of course if I had my current understandings about life, God, Jesus etc. when I was in my twenties, I would have done things a lot differently. But this understanding has developed through the journey, and does not happen all at once. I can be happy that at each stage of life I generally lived by the light that I then knew... I hope that continues. Throughout I have kept growing and trying out new and different thoughts and things. There was a year or two when I stagnated, partly because you have to "dumb-down" your sermons etc. to communicate with people, I was working with another minister with different ideas, so I tended to just coast for a while, not rocking my boat or my relationship with him.  But I am happy to say that, in general, my dissatisfaction has continued to make me review again and again my world view, keep on redrawing  my "maps" and try new ways of doing things and seeing things. To the younger folks reading this I would say, whatever you do keep growing intellectually, inwardly and outwardly. 

In my time I have experienced different styles of living. I lived as a tradesman. I lived as a student. I lived as a conventional minister. I traveled and lived in a caravan doing a different style of work. I played with rural life, simple life-style and self-sufficiency and have taken some of these values on board. I tried a venture that failed, lived as a hardware salesman briefly and was part of an editorial team once. I have been a square peg in a round hole minister for the last 20 odd years. I studied community and social work issues and have built that into my ministry. I am enjoying industrial chaplaincy. I have enjoyed involvement in the community through PTA, coaching children's sport, Habitat for Humanity, Night Shelter and various church activities.

I have had, and still have a few close friendships, a long supportive and affirming marriage, but never ever had a big number of friends.  I have a family of adult children who are doing OK, are independent thinkers, relating responsibly and who love and care for one another. I know that I have been lucky enough to contribute in a constructive way to other people's lives. I have had the privilege of being with people at special moments. I have enjoyed times of solitude.

Maybe if my time was up now I would have to say I would loved to have tramped more, cycled more, gardened more or played with wood or metal. I would love to have painted and/or photographed more.

But one thing I have learned is that you cannot do everything or have everything you want in life. Another thing is that life has it's moments and stages. Sometimes you can do some things, at other times they have to go on the back burner while other ventures or priorities capture your attention.

Of course there are a few regrets, mistakes and "what if" questions... but last night in the face of my chest pains, I came to the conclusion that I hadn't done too bad, and as I say, generally lived by the light I have seen at that point of time, have always been open to more light and have continued to grow in life's journey.

Today I have energetically dug a nearly 19 square meter patch of ground and gone on a 25 k bike ride so I doubt my time is up yet. Probably it was reflux or damaged ligaments near my ribs from my Saturday Habitat activities. But it made me think and in some weird way gave me peace of mind. If my time was up, I'd definitely say, "Bugger!" But I would be reasonably happy with what I've done and how I've done it. 

Photo: building a back door step at the Habitat house. 

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Nice people in the world...

A man in my church told me that his 9 year old daughter had been discussing Sunday school lessons at home. She decided that she was well off and that she could share with others. She did not want us to know but, in discussion with her parents, she had withdrawn her savings and donated it toward our Christmas day community dinner that we put on at the church. She truly is a delightful little girl, and a very thoughtful girl.

My daughter works for the Dominican Sisters in an administrative assistant role. On Thursday afternoon I was meeting with the Night Shelter Chairman when in a flurry of activity she burst into the office, dropped an envelope on my desk and rushed out again. The man I was meeting with looked at me, shook his head as if to say, "Who was that?" I explained it was my daughter... "I thought so." he replied. The envelope had a gift of $500 and a warm supportive letter from the Dominican sisters for our Christmas dinner.

Some months ago a guy who owns a landscaping business dropped into the Habitat for Humanity site. He told us he would do the landscaping when we were ready. I remember because he got carried away while he was there and ended up nailing ceiling battens. "Bloody hell." he said, "I only came to tell you I'd help with the landscaping and now I am nailing! What is it with you people?" I remember him too because we were working side by side and he asked me, "Are you really a parson?" Well on Saturday he turned up with his machinery and took charge of the landscaping. He was so great with the volunteers, helping them, directing them and fitting into the spirit of the site. At one stage his wife and his son turned up and just fitted in as if they belonged. They are nice people.

We opened the drop-in centre at the church at 6:30 on Friday evening. We dished out the sausages, the sandwiches and various food items. I was sitting talking to one bloke, who had been in a mental health ward at the hospital for nearly all year and was now back in a flat. He was so pleased to be back with us. Suddenly my friend pointed toward the door, and said, "Look!". There stood a slightly stunned looking young man with two big plates of sandwiches in his hands. "We were having a customer "do" over the road at the Xerox place. We saw all the blokes come in here. We have a few sandwiches left over and thought you guys could use them." he said. He fished in his pocket and handed me his card. His name is Scott and he too is a nice guy. 

We have had a number of phone calls from people who want to come and help with our Christmas day Community dinner. Some of them are from people who helped last year and want to be there again this year. A manager in one of my chaplaincies wants to come with his family to help. We had a call today from a lady who was there last year. She and her family want to help again. She is a nurse and had gone to some trouble to arrange to have the day off just so she could be there with us as part of the team. They too are nice people.

I could go on. I have waxed on in an earlier post that there are "bastards in the world". Tonight I would remind myself that there are a whole heap of "good bastards" in the world. For this I am thankful, to me they are a sign of God's presence among us.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An explosion?

On Monday I took my old road bike down to the garage to pump the tyre up. The front tyre has an old type of valve, so I had to screw an extension on it to use the compressed air. With this valve the meter only reads the pressure while you are pumping. I kept trying to pump to read the pressure. All of a sudden there was a loud explosion, my tyre came off the rim and my tube split! The mechanic and owner of the garage came running yelling, "What the hell?".  Dazed, I said, "I think I put too much air for the tyre to hold."  They probably went back to their work saying something not very complimentary about parsons.

Today I accepted a new chaplaincy. I visited there for an hour with their current chaplain, a younger vivacious, attractive, blond, outgoing, joking sort of woman. (About the exact opposite of shy old me.) It is the Allied Press in Dunedin. I was pleasantly surprised though because I kept bumping into people I knew. The sister of a fireman, a reporter I had worked on an obit with, an advertising saleslady I did a deal with, a man I linked up with in a half-marathon years ago... (he remembered me!) etc etc. It is a big rabbit warren of a building. I was intrigued with all the processes that go on to produce a paper. I hope I am accepted? They obviously loved their current chaplain. ... but I also wonder if I am doing to my life what I did to my tyre... trying to fit too much in??? Just wait ... you may hear an explosion. I take over late next week.  I think I can manage if I learn to say "no" to some things and learn to have the confidence to be more decisive so I can do other tasks at a quicker clip. In spite of my hesitations, the people interested me and I look forward to learning more about the work there and expanding my horizons more. Watch this space.

Today was full on. I played in goal at the PACT social soccer. I saved heaps of goals, I was surprised at how fast I reacted, but my little finger on my left hand and it's knuckle are sore and swollen now! Should 61 year olds play soccer? Yes... yes... "rage rage against the dying of the light!" 

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Midweek quandries....

Attachment to cars...?

We had an MG station wagon which had become unreliable. We had used it fairly well over the years, gone on a number of journeys and carried quite a lot of loads. The MG was great on a trip, great on cornering and as a station wagon, very handy. But some time ago it kept stopping embarrassingly often... just cutting out. Then mysteriously some time later it would start up again, usually when we had towed it to a garage to find the fault. We had several garages look into it and finally got it fixed at some expense. It went well for a while then started doing the same thing. It was getting rusty also so we bought "Wicked Wanda" our Nissan Blue Bird. The MG has just sat on the grass beside our drive where I last towed it after it had died once too often, getting rusty and in the way. Today it got taken away and I feel like I have sent a pet to the abattoir! Maybe if I had had the time I could have repaired it? Looked after it better? I feel guilty over a car! How sad is that?

A new chaplaincy... to be or not to be?

I have been offered a new chaplaincy, four hours a week. It would be in an industry that would be intensely interesting. But I am a busy boy now? I really don't know what to do, and I have to decide by tomorrow. I have done a pros and cons thing in my mind. I have talked it over with my boss; with the chaplain who is resigning from the place; with my wife; with my friend; with my supervisor; with the chair of the church board; ... but no one will tell me what to do. They each ask questions, make suggestions... but somehow I have to decide by tomorrow! I am scared about taking on something I could fail at. There would be more women involved in this workplace and I suppose I see myself as a "blokes" chaplain and am uncomfortable around women. The hopes and expectations of the management seem to be high. Oh dear... what to do? Will I sleep tonight!

Pianist wanted...?

Our pianist at church has been a lovely Korean lady who has been doing a PhD. She is finished and has a job overseas, leaving soon. We need a new pianist! Where to find one? 

Feedback reactions...?

I spent time with my boss on Tuesday. She updated me on the evaluations after my leading of a recent chaplains' training day... they were all good. She assured me that I was highly respected as a chaplain by my fellow chaplains. ... I was rung by a manager of one of my chaplaincy work places and he and his family want to come help at our Christmas dinner. The conversation felt like an endorsement of who I was and what I do..... My supervisor gave me some nice feedback.... As I left an inner-city ministers meeting I was told how much they admired my community involvement and my example of ministry. All these unsolicited... but the weird thing is there is this voice inside me says, "Yeah right! You don't really know me! That's not me! I am a failure!"  Weird? 


I end up having heaps of conversations with all sorts of people each week. I feel deeply privileged. I see some sort of sea birds on a hot day sitting extending their wings and fluffing their feathers so that they maximise their exposure to the breeze to help them cool. These conversations are a bit like that. There is my experiences of life. But then as I talk with others, and am exposed to their experiences, my experience is added to, expanded and informed. It is like there is so much more added to my life. The conversations I am privileged to have, with the variety of people I encounter, maximise my experience of life. I get more "bang for my buck" out of life. I am so fortunate.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Sunday stewing...


Since we have started Settlement Resource@Space2B at our church I have met a whole lot of people from around the world. I find it intensely interesting to hear their stories and step into their world. I spent quite a bit of time this week with a man from a country, which he says is very rich. He told me that the price of a whole lot of commodities was a lot cheaper than here in Dunedin, NZ. Materially life was pretty good, but he said, in faltering English, "Nobody can relax!" He told how people were not really allowed freedom of speech and thought. While he loved his country, and it will be difficult for him and his family to forge a new life here, that freedom was worth moving else where, and in a sense risking all for him and his family. We in NZ take for granted the freedoms we have.

Tim's text...

I share with you a text I got from Tim, a guy who comes to our drop-in centre and was part of the street footy team. He has been down at the wharf fishing in the Otago Harbour where salmon are running at the moment. On Saturday morning he sent me this text: 

"The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away! I was reeling in a 40 cm salmon this morning when a gigantic sea lion grabbed my fish and ate it b4 mine eyes #*# " I thought it was so funny.

Priorities and hours in the day.

This week I have struggled with priorities and how to fit everything I want to do in. I have had a good week, and spent a lot of time with people, feeling that I have been a support and help to them, while enjoying the sense of connection and learning myself. But because of that I did not get some other things done well. Always there seemed to be options to choose from. Stay here and talk, or do a report for the board meeting? Listen to this new settler, try to find help for him, or go to that funeral to support a member in his grief? Share with the street footy team as they celebrate, or catch up on office work? Stay longer at chaplaincy or play footy with PACT guys? Go to St John or befriend this guy visiting? ... these questions plague me constantly, and then I am being invited to take on yet another chaplaincy??? I have to meet on Tuesday with my boss to discuss that. 

An epiphany... I DO know who I am!

I was driving into the Habitat for Humanity building site early on Saturday morning. (Yes, in spite of my protest etc. of last week... I went back!) It is at least a 20 - 25 minute drive, so as I drive, I think. Seeing some people on a bike ride I became envious.  "Why am I going back?" I asked myself. "I promised never to return, now I am changing my mind. People will think I am weak? Why?" Then I found myself answering my own question... "Because that is who I am. This family needs a house, I can help build a house and I help people, that is who I am! Plain and simple... no piffling argument can stop who I am!" ... I may be seen as weak, as flip flopping, but the epiphany was the realisation that deep down I know who I am... "I am a guy who values helping people. To 'be' for me, is to reach out to people!" 

It is like one of those weighted little toy men with a rounded base. You can push them over but they will bounce back to sit upright... so I can be distracted from my essence by various things (like last week's hissy fit) but I will bounce back. Like a compass can be turned around, but eventually it points north again. I am here in life to support, share with, help, be in solidarity with people... that's who I am. 

Driving through town I got to thinking about ministry. I had a list of things to do before Sunday. Why do I struggle with ministry? How come at 61 I am still wondering what I am going to be when I grow up?  Am I stupid? Immature? Weak minded? But once again I found myself answering. "I know who I am! In my core I am a supporter and helper of people. My problem is not a weakness or identity crisis.  My problem lies in answering the question, how best do I express this inner core? And sometimes 'religion' does not seem to be the best medium to express that." 

I found this a helpful epiphany... My uncertainties and struggles are not with my identity... that is sorted... I am a follower of Jesus, a servant of people etc. But my struggles and uncertainties lie in "how and where best do I express that identity?" 

I finished the week feeling like I am extremely privileged to have spent time with so many interesting people. I have also valued my friendships.


Morning tea with friends at the Habitat site as the sky darkens.

Rugged up against the cold, building yet another fence with my friend Jane. This is the fifth Habitat house we have worked on fences together.


Thursday, November 19, 2009

How could I???

I have been stamping my foot saying, "I have had enough of being dumped on by Habitat for Humanity! I'm not going back!"

Yesterday Mike, the prospective owner of the house brought a big arm load of bread for our Drop-in centre. We sat in the Space2B area and talked briefly. He is such a nice guy! He has worked his butt off to get this house finished. He is so looking forward to moving into the house before Christmas! As I sat there looking at this gentle lovely man, I thought, "How can I refuse to work on his house just because some people pissed me off?" Apparently some of the issues that annoyed me were discussed at the Directors meeting last night... maybe my hissy fit was not a waste of time??

Bugger! I was looking forward to a Saturday off!

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The language of sport.

I have often been cynical about the place sport is given in our society, and I remain cynical. I often want to scream... "It's only a game!" But two things have happened to me in the last two days that show the value of sport.

I spent Tuesday morning up in our Church Drop-in centre with the Street Footy Team which represented Dunedin in the Street Footy Festival in Wellington last Saturday. It is all related to the Homeless World Cup. These are"excluded people" who play a form of soccer. I have been involved with them. They went, did not win much of anything except they won the Fair Play award. I texted them on Saturday some time and told them that to me they were all winners before they even left for the tournament. They have all made healthy changes in their lifestyle because of their involvement. Yesterday they were "debriefing" and looking at the photos from their big trip in our drop-in. It was fantastic talking and sharing with them, they were still on a positive high three days later. It was such a great experience for them.

Today we had a man from the Philippines, a plumber from Iran and a Chinese man we know as Mike (Along with others) in at our Settlement Resource @ Space2B. Mike can read English very well but struggles to speak it. We were talking and struggling to make conversation. It was a hectic time trying to understand these folks' English and assess their needs. Mike, who visits regularly, suddenly said, "I must play you in ping pong sometime." We were all tired from trying to converse, so I said, "We can do it now." He and I raced upstairs, found ball and bats and played fast paced table tennis for 35 minutes, laughing, grunting and celebrating. Gone was the language barrier. There was no cultural barriers. He is rich, I am, well, poorer. He is youngish, I am old; he is of uncertain religious affiliation, (I gave him a Bible and he's read the New Testament) I am a follower of Jesus..... but playing table tennis we were brothers enjoying each other's skills, company and friendship. Again there was a warm sense of connection.

I am cynical of top level professional sport, but it is a barrier breaker and a great motivator for many people. Maybe I should not be quite as cynical as I am.

Mike (table tennis "bro")
The proud Dunedin Street Footy team
Playing the Christchurch mob.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

"Spat the dummy"... "Threw my toys out of the cot!"

Grumpy at Habitat

I went to the Habitat house on Saturday. I was there very early and reconnected water to the site. I then settled in to do some boxing on a path, but a whole heap of things turned me ugly.

  • The building committee members changed their mind on how it should go. We had to change what we had done.
  • Because of instructions from one of the leaders we had people attempting to bring barrow loads of gravel down through where we were meant to be erecting the boxing.
  • I am trying to be just a volunteer on site and yet I had people coming to me looking for work. It was a frustrating time. I felt that the people who were meant to be leading the show were not doing their job. They were doing a nice wee job together, oblivious to what else was happening on site and the leadership others needed. 
  • Some time early in the afternoon they finished their job and decided to come round to where I was. One wanted to "help" but was just telling me how to do stuff I already knew how to do. I dropped fairly big hints and some direct suggestions to send them off. I mouthed "bugger off" to one, and he took off to the other end of the path to work. But the other, a good friend, started to tell me that what we had done was wrong. 

I had had enough. I have been frustrated for years with the way the Habitat builds are run. We tend to go from week to week, making it up as we go. I have often felt that there were already too many people putting their oar in, so in a commitment to the families, had just buried my objections and frustrations and kept attending faithfully and doing whatever was expected of me. At organisational levels at different times I had made suggestions for change but these were usually ignored.

But on Saturday, when this guy looking at a job half done said, "It's not straight!" I saw red. I said something like "F**K ... That's it ...I'm going home!" and began to collect my tools into the van. On my second trip back to get tools, in anger I blurted an old saying my father used to say jokingly to my mum, "Fools and women should not see a job half done!" ... my workmate, a woman was glaring at me in disgust, but at that point I was so angry I couldn't care! All my years of frustration were coming to the surface. I informed my wife I was leaving, then climbed in my van and drove off. I did not spin the tyres or slam the door, in some ways I was still calm about what I was doing.  I went home, changed and walked up my mountain. My wife eventually left the job herself, came home and rang me during my walk. It is amazing how fast you walk when you are mad!

I think I have decided I have done enough for Habitat for Humanity and it's time I gave it up. I had an email from one of the leaders involved, I replied with essentially what I have told you, and said, "You guys are on your own now!" Today, with a bit of sadness, I emptied my tool boxes, put away my tools in the drawers and on the shelves in my workshop.  After thirteen houses I think its time to stop. It has not been as much fun lately.

What is heresy

On Sunday I talked about Mark 13, where Jesus begins to talk about the future and what has been called the "second coming". (I tend to think of these things as symbols of what is ultimate.) The message seems to me to be that we will always live in times of trial (Plumber's language: "Shit happens") and followers of Jesus in the midst of trials need to "be on their guard" and stay on course. 

Now many Christians think that staying on course and not being led astray is the same as "believing the wrong things", getting led off the orthodox path. That's the way some of the commentaries I read interpreted it. But I think it is staying true to the way (the values, the lifestyle, the purposes) of Jesus in the midst of and in spite of tribulations. I am a "heretic" when in the face of trouble I do the less-than-loving deed. I had an example of this recently. In a discussion one earnest Christian was ranting against Muslems. He was saying that we Christians  "are too tolerant, we accept them into our country, we give them the right to say what they like and practice their religion, we forgive them, we try to understand them... they will take over our country! Why should we be so nice?" I waited to see the response of the group. One lovely lady responded, "Because that's who we are.... we are not being Christian if we do not do those things." You see, by being militant, closed and intolerant Christians, in my view, we are denying Jesus, and are in practice "heretics", however "orthodox" our theology.

Was I a heretic.. denying Jesus by "spitting the dummy" on Saturday?

This is the question I have been asking. What is the "Jesus response" to all the frustrations I have had with Habitat for Humanity and in the situation on Saturday? And further to that, am I being loving by putting away my tools and moving on? And if I am wrong, how do I lovingly respond or deal with my frustrations? I have tried discussion and committee involvement etc etc. Are there horses for courses, and I am not cut out for Habitat as it is now? ....I think my angry outburst let Jesus down, but leaving was OK.  After all he overturned tables in the temple to make his point! 

do wish life was simple!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Sometimes I do OK

There was an article in the community paper yesterday about Tim. He is heading off tomorrow to Wellington to take part in a Street Footy Festival for "Homeless" people. He is a part of the soccer I have been playing with PACT social soccer group on Thursday mornings. I became part of it to try to encourage a Dunedin team to go. Jason from PACT has got behind it and trained up this team. Tim comes to our drop-in centre and as I was playing him in table tennis one night I asked him if he would be interested in soccer. So I take him down. He has been working on his fitness and is as keen as mustard. He was selected for the team and the paper tells the story of him going from being a problem drinker to stopping drinking. He told us tonight that he has not had a smoke for a week. He is making great strides in sorting his life out in other areas also. 

And, I say this with a sense of grace and privilege, I had a wee part to play in that. I am going in tomorrow morning early to see the team off. I wish I was going with them. I hope they enjoy it, whether or not they win. They are winners already. I asked Tim to text me the results while I am working on the Habitat house during the day. (if I feel better by the morning) We had 60 through our drop-in centre tonight. It was so nice to share their company, to laugh with them, share their world, hear their stories and play games with them. But I was not feeling too well and I am now sooo tired.  I have felt like I make a wee difference in some people's lives today though.

Photo from the Allied Press Star Midweeker paper.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Old Dogs....

"The Dad who walks" commented on my last post and quoted a song by Tom T Hall about "Old Dogs and children". I enjoy the song and have been listening to it (and heaps of other Tom T Hall songs) on U Tube... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eSMPzYNXyk8 

I guess there were a lot of things about my childhood that have made it difficult for me to trust people. 

My mum did her best but lived under constant stress and I guess, to be honest, I found her less than constant in her love toward me. I was often punished unjustly, and that really hurt. I was often ridiculed or belittled in front of visitors to our home. It may have been in fun, but to a growing insecure kid, it was hard to take.

My dad died just when I was old enough to get to know him. We were just starting to converse and "be friends" and he up and died.

I have had a few deep friendships that have lasted years, but then blown apart.

All these give me a certain cautiousness about relationships. So the song rings bells. 

I have always had a tendency to enjoy my own company. (Mum would declare to a gathered throng that "David was the unsociable one!" - which tended to be a self fulfilling prophecy.) I am pleased to enjoy my own company. There is something important and special about solitude. But I do wish I was more comfortable with friendships. I tend to hold people at bay, believing deep down that they would not like me if they knew me. "Old dogs", the birds in the bush, the goat watching me dig, the car I drive, the bike I peddle are good friends to me. 

We're all different.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Monday miracles...

I have had quite a good day off. 

2 incident free WOF's

In NZ you have to get a Warrant of Fitness for your vehicle every 6 months. You take it to a garage or testing station and they check tyres, brakes and countless other safety things about the car. (The list keeps getting longer) I have a 1989 van and a 1990 car. Every time I send them for a warrant I get nervous. How many things will need fixing? What is it going to cost me? Well last Thursday the van got a warrant, the only thing the mechanic did was fill up the windscreen washer bottle. And today, "Wanda" my old Nissan Bluebird, got an incident free warrant of Fitness. Relief!

Christmas Day dinner meat...

The main reason I feel good about today is that we called at Marlow Pies to ask if they would cook the meat for our Community Christmas Day dinner. They have in the past. It is THE major item in the Christmas day meal. There are at least 25 legs of hogget (year old sheep) to be cooked. I HATE asking people for free favours. I had tried to email them through their website but I thought it had not gone. In fear and trepidation I went into their store today and asked. "Oh!" the lady said, "You're the Christmas Dinner man! Sorry I didn't reply to your email, that will be fine. We'll do it!" I hope she saw the happiness, relief and gratitude in my face. I just said, "Thank you, it means a lot to us." I am thankful that these people are prepared to get up early on Christmas day morning, go down to their factory and turn their ovens on. Many people would not be as generous, and they have done it for us for a few years now. I was so relieved I felt like celebrating... I had savaloys for lunch in celebration. :-)

Skin is marvellous..

Last Friday I cut my finger with my pocket knife. It was quite a deep cut. For a week I have had to wear a bandage, and it bled every now and then for the first couple of days. But today I went bandage free and it is virtually healed. How great is that? The other thing that astounded me is that I put a substantial sticking plaster on it every day. But each day by the end of the day, just through use of the finger the plaster was very dirty, worn and tattered. I could not help but think that my skin puts up with that sort of punishment day in and day out and doesn't fall to pieces. That's pretty tough stuff! :-)


Even though the wind was cool I had an hour or so in the garden. Quietly on hands and knees I planted sixteen plants. (2 types of lettuce, Chinese cabbage and parsley) I worked into the soil lovely horse poo I bought from horse lovers down the road. It is so relaxing having time to work the soil again, it does something for the soul. :-)

Evaluations positive...

I facilitated a Professional Development day for fellow chaplains Friday week ago. I felt good doing it, it was "me" at my best, using my gifts. I looked at the evaluation forms from the chaplains on Friday and they were glowing in their response..... nice warm confidence booster for a very insecure 61 year old.

Mountain meander...

I finished the day with a nice walk up the Organ Pipe Track up Mount Cargill which over looks Dunedin. "My Mountain". I took Max our old dog who puffed away there, but seemed to enjoy it. It was a nice evening for walking. A bit of wind in exposed places, but the bush walk up there is so refreshing.

Life was good today!


(1) Max our old somewhat neglected dog... still loves me. I am astounded, he seems to understand what you say and talks when he looks at you. When I come to a fork in the pathway, he looks one way then the other, then looks at me as if to say, "Which way boss?"

(2) A hazy view of the country side from about halfway up.

(3) Looking like some kind of Biblical altar, a plinth at the top of the mountain has a brass plaque on it pointing out local high points. Unfortunately some twit has plastered graffiti all over it.


Saturday, November 7, 2009

Love is weird...

"I love these people, you know?"

I was at the drop-in centre on Friday night. I was being ear bashed by Paul. Aussie was giving me heaps of cheek. Jennifer looked pleased to be back. Grace thought I'd stolen her purse. Nick was asking me to make more drink. Dave was late and wanted more sausages. Saraya was grizzly and Summer was noisy. It was a normal drop-in night. My friend Noel does endless sink loads of dishes. He was sitting having a brief break when I plonked myself down beside him. I surveyed the room, with all of its activities and conversations and all I could say was, "I love these people, you know?" These words were my own funny surprised reaction that named the feelings going through my "body". I was surprised by the depth of my feeling at that point of time. Often they drive me mad. Often they annoy the hell out of me, but all I could feel as I watched them was a deep sense of connection ... with this weird mob??? Where did that come from? Love IS weird.... I often find that.

The new Kitchen is in...

The church has refurbished its kitchen. Some women felt that it was old and not a good look for outside groups. I didn't think it was too bad, but the decision was made to do it. We got some grants for some of the cost. It will cost in excess of $20,000, I have lost count. We still have not got it up to commercial standard unfortunately. All I feel as I think about the money involved is that we really need to make sure it serves the needs of people in the community. Good stewardship demands that we use it well. 

Nearly Cremated Swearing Parson...

On Monday I went with a guy from Church to level the floor under the Church kitchen. The piles were not reaching the floor bearers any more so we had decided to pack the piles before they brought the new benches in. I went under and Curly (a friend and church elder) had a halogen lamp going so we could see what we were doing. I was working away on the pile when Curly shouted, "You're burning! Your back is smoking!" The heat from the lamp behind me was burning my overalls, probably just singing off the dust and dirt, but it was quite hot. I rolled in the dust to make sure any burning was smothered and readjusted my position. Curly got the giggles about a smoking parson. A little later I had a chisel and was chipping away at plaster on a pile. All of a sudden there was a loud explosion and the lamp behind me went out. A chip of plaster must have landed on the unprotected bulb. I was so surprised by the noise that I let out a loud "Shit!". Curly was as calm as ever... "Oh," he said, "Now you've bust my light." It wasn't till later that I thought that there could easily have been one of my lady church members up stairs who may not have been amused with the minister's voice yelling expletives from under the Church floor. I had a head lamp on so we completed the task with that.

Dig in and keep going...

Building a Habitat house is fun and has a lot of positive experiences. But we have been going since late May on this house and at this stage the novelty of getting up on Saturday morning and working is wearing thin. I drove to the site looking with envy at the people going for leisurely Saturday morning bike rides, or sitting on their deck drinking coffee and reading the paper, or jogging around the park as I drove passed. I had the blues badly. Once I got there and was working, relating and joking I was OK. I know that if we keep going very soon we'll have the joy of seeing another family housed. That will blot out the weariness of the present Saturday blues.

Photo: Excess wall board being loaded at the Habitat site. That's me in the greenish overalls, I do look tired don't I?

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Good things happen...

Since I often grump about my lot I thought I should tell you about some good things....

Billy Elliot... At Church every now and then we have "Movies with meaning". We show a movie and then have a brief discussion about it afterward. Last night we watched "Billy Elliot". It was probably the fourth time I have seen the movie and I loved it to bits. Billy lives in a coal mining town in England and grows to love ballet, which is a choice not approved of, for a boy, in this tough mining community. His dead mum had left him a letter saying, "Always be yourself." It's a great story... He describes his feeling when he's dancing as  "... Sorta feels good. . Sorta stiff and that, but once I get going... then I like, forget everything. And ... sorta disappear...... I've got this fire in my body. I'm just there. Flyin' like a bird. Like electricity. Yeah, like electricity."  ... I am so lucky because just sometimes in my work I feel like that. Facilitating the chaplains' training day, leading a funeral, playing soccer with "excluded" people, sometimes leading a service, being "with" people in life ... sometimes its "like electricity".... but other times...what a mixed up guy I am??? 

Race Horses... One of the guys watching the film with us was an ex- firefighter who I have had reason to keep in touch with, and who is getting more and more involved in our church life. He trains race horses. He is so keen to take me out to experience the horses and his love of horses. Next week we hope to make a date. So nice to be wanted.

Confession.... Quite some time ago on an evening when my wife and I were away from the Drop-in centre, we had a vacuum cleaner stolen from the church on the drop-in night. We had no idea who it was. There is a man who is now a regular at the drop-in who I have spent quite a bit of time with lately. He called at the church over lunch hour and asked for me. I was unavailable so he took my wife aside. He told her that it was him who had stolen the vacuum, he was deeply sorry, could he return it and would we forgive him. He asked if I would call at his place later that day and pick it up. I did, and spent time talking with him in the car coming back to town. His last words were, "Do you forgive me?" "Amen" I replied. I thought it was a very brave thing to do to own up to it. It is all a part of him sorting his life out. My heart was warmed.

In tune donation... With Habitat for Humanity we are building a house with a Maori family with ten children. They are simply nice people, who are involved on a voluntary basis, supporting women's refuge. The mum, Christine, had been talking with us and caught up on the fact that we run a drop-in centre. They get excess food donated for the refuge from time to time. Out of the blue at 6p.m. tonight there was a bang on my outside office door. Here was Christine with a great stack of food, extra to their needs, "for youse guys and your drop-in". It was such a boost, not just because of the value of the gift, but the sense of them being "in tune" with what we do...a sense of being partners together in caring in our community. Loved it.

Lord, help me "count my blessings".... Amen to that.

Photo: Christine building her house.


Monday, November 2, 2009

I do work sometimes..

I thought I'd include the photo above to show that I do do some work from time to time. This is me putting up part of the ceiling on the Habitat house. The guy watching me is virtually totally deaf. He has a friend who comes who is totally deaf. It is extremely hard explaining work to them, but they are cheerful and seem to love getting into the project. They leave each Saturday with handshakes, thumbs up signs all around and big grins on their faces. I am sure I would be real grumpy if I was deaf! 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Not bad at week's end...

Wednesday was a "people day"

On Wednesday morning I walked with the Church walking group. They are so slow! I kept company with this one guy I introduced to the group, who ear bashes me all the time. It was a tough morning. At lunch time at "Space2b" I shared with people from various countries, we ate Indian food and chatted. I spent a good part of the afternoon chatting with some Indian people. It expanded my horizons, they were delightful company, but I had heaps of other stuff I should have been doing!

Soccer is still good.

I went to soccer on Thursday. We are sending a team away to a Street Footy Festival in two weeks time. I watched the team on Thursday morning. There are some real characters in it, they will give it their best shot. They have trouble with controlling the ball though and could do with passing it more often, but maybe their competition won't be any better. I enjoy playing with them, and they seem to enjoy my involvement. Some of them are now playing softball on Saturdays and they come to me and say, "Why aren't you there?" I never thought I'd be playing weekly soccer at 61 years of age!

In the "facilitator Groove"

On Friday I led a Professional Development Day for the Workplace Support chaplains for Otago and Southland. I led it on "Diversity". I put a tremendous amount of thought into the subject for the last few months, just stewing every now and then on what direction to take. On the day I got there later than I had hoped, (too many interruptions) and I did not use all the multi-media technology I had hoped to use because I had too much material for the time, but I was good! I loved the exercise of slowly leading people on a journey of thought and discovery, with a mixture of thinking, discussion and different sorts of worship activity. I love bouncing ideas around with people, sharing experiences and thoughts and especially loved the positive feedback. I would probably do things a bit differently next time, you learn as you go. I really enjoy this sort of work. It is right where I am with the gifts I have. If I could find a job doing just that I'd be in heaven. I found it intriguing that a couple of people came up to me during the day and suggested I should write a book. I realised that with the training I have received, on-going reading and thinking, the variety of experiences and the years of involvement with people, I have gathered quite a bit of knowledge, discernment and wisdom. That's not being big headed, its just that my journey has taught me heaps. It was good on Friday to be able to share some of that and design a program to help people expand their thinking. I'll await the official evaluation forms though... but I think I did OK.

Nice to be needed

Twice in the last two weeks guys from my chaplaincy have called at the church just wanting to tell me what they are going through. They did not want solutions, help or advice, they just wanted me to know what they were facing. It was like they considered me their friend and I should know. I felt honoured.  There have been some similar conversations on chaplaincy sites also. It is so nice to be seen as an important presence in their lives.  May be I make a difference just by being there? 

Drop-in Centre

On the surface it looked like just a normal drop-in centre night. There was one little tiff where he owed him some money and they were bitching at each other. But it was the quiet friendly conversations that made me feel it was worth it. Two examples are ...  Two guys I support in the soccer team talked in a warm friendly way. A Maori mental health patient I have known for years told me how he was, and how life was going for him, like we were old friends. Others made sure they said thanks as they went out the door and said goodbye. I finished the night feeling like the personal connections were important and that again, my presence in their life was doing something vital for them. By Friday night I was exhausted, but in a funny way, satisfied. 

Foreman again...

To all intents and purposes I was foreman on the Habitat site again. It is so frustrating. You wander around desperately trying to answer questions and guide people, but also trying to do your own project. You get interrupted again and again, and you feel responsible for how much gets done for the day. I resigned from the Board and committees, it seems like they just assume I will carry on. I think I am good at it. I make people feel at ease. I meet people where they are at and help them achieve things they thought they couldn't do. But I worked under pressure essentially eight hours at Habitat on Saturday and I lost sleep on Friday night thinking of stuff for the morning. I was absolutely exhausted and because of that I feel I short changed the congregation on Sunday. I had a careless, "that will have to do" attitude toward today's worship service, which I usually do not have. If I did not feel so responsible for the family, and want desperately to get them into the house before Christmas, I would officially hand in my container and house keys, and take a Saturday or two off so they get the message that they should not rely on me. I repeat... I am NOT a carpenter! But I think I would have been a good one. :-)


I started the week feeling depressed. I end the week still with a down sort of feeling, but knowing that in the midst of life I am making a difference. I find that with my depressions. If I hang in there and keep being involved with people, I begin to see light at the end of the tunnel. Its like you are sinking in quick sand and you don't know where the bottom is. If you keep going doing what you think you ought to do, you begin to feel some solid ground under your feet. You're still in mud, but you know that it won't take you further down. Jesus was right, "If you lose your life, you find it!" But its not all that easy all the time.