Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, January 31, 2010

To live or not to live?

I have ranted (as one friend calls my blog posts) about this before, but I will do it again. We had some friends out for dinner on Friday evening. It was the first time they had been to our place so we took them down the back to show them the extent of our property etc. We have a vegetable garden amongst a whole lot of over grown paths, a "paddock" out the back with a couple of goats grazing and sheds and hen house that could do with some care.  In the front there are "flower" gardens with overgrown weeds. As we were walking back to the house he commented that he was amazed I could get anything done at home with all the other stuff I did. (Actually Jean does a heap of the home stuff) I explained that in pre Habitat for Humanity days it used to look a lot tidier. I then got a lecture that went like this; "Its all right helping people but you have to live too.... You just can't live for other people, you have to remember that you have a right to a life as well." etc. etc. etc.  I appreciate the call to balance and I appreciate his concern but.... excuse me... I am "living" by being there for and with other people! I give three examples...

How much incredible learning and joy would I have missed out on if I had never got involved in Habitat for Humanity. I might have had a weedless garden, my buildings may have been painted up nice, and my lawn manicured but think of all the experiences I would have traded for the relatively superficial joy of a neat house and garden. I would have missed out on;

  • The deep joy of seeing families start a new life and knowing I helped make it possible. 
  • The incredible experiences of being part of a team and seeing the various parts of the project completed. There are days when upon the completion of the day there has been such a spirit and sense of purpose that you feel something really sacred, something immeasurable and special happened between people.
  • Seeing scared, cautious volunteers learn skills, grow and become confident.
  • The whole process of learning how a house is built and appreciating the work and expertise of various trades and the skill involved.
  • The experience of gaining confidence as a builder and as a person and realising that "Hey I can do this!" The learning and practice in problem solving skills. 
  • Meeting the various people you encounter, the families, your fellow volunteers and the committee members. I extend my friendships, my experience of life and my perspectives on life by meeting this great variety of people. 

You put these things alongside fiddling with weeds in a garden, and I'll take the Habitat experiences any day! I am NOT denying life by not looking after my house and garden.

Even if I put Friday night Drop-in centre life under the microscope and compare the trade off I believe I come out the winner. Before Drop-in I used to spend lazy Friday nights relaxing. Here is a weird part of my life I'll share with you. I recall often on Friday nights I would have a bath. I would take a wine or a cool beer, soak in the bath reading a book and listening to a country music radio station. I would have the hot tap dribbling just to keep the water warm, controlling the flow with my toes. After that we may have watched a video and made love. Sooo relaxing. ..... now I spend Friday nights with an average of forty people, playing pool, table tennis, hearing problems, joys, joking and sometimes stressing out about conflicts. But again there are moments of joy. There are lives that are changed. There are moments that are so funny that years afterward I can't help smiling when they come to mind. I get to see the world from different peoples' perspective and their journey in life becomes a part of my journey. Again I am tested to the limits of my abilities and again I grow in confidence. I AM living on Friday night! I am NOT denying myself life.  On the contrary I am extending, enriching and fulfilling my life. I can hear someone saying, "But what about the 'making love' trade off!" Yep my "average" per week may be less, but I am with my wife at the drop-in, its a shared project and passion and that is in itself a bonding, shared history enhancing, marriage enriching experience. 

Finally take last night as an example. I offered to help a friend struggling with injuries to feed his horses. He objected. "Sunday night is your relaxation night. No, you need to relax, don't come out to help me!" But I did, and I had the best Sunday night I have had in ages. Not only did I gain confidence in and around horses, but I got to know him and have significant deep conversation as we worked around his stables. I would not trade that for a night of artificial entertainment in front of the box. (Though I did miss "Doc Martin")

I often look at the way people try to get enjoyment and "happiness" out of life. There seems to me to be a lot of artificial "plastic" happiness. Very often I see lots of stupid meaningless conversation and joking. Frequently there seems to be an out of proportion fascination with things that are not that important. We get too wrapped up in sporting teams for example. I have heard people rabbit on as if the world depended on them about such things as model cars, fashion and the details of real cars. The list of things I have encountered can be miles long... flowers, dolls, firebrigade badges, pen collections, photos of Dunedin buses, etc. etc. etc.  We can delve into the pros and cons of films and the artificial life they draw us into. We often drink too much to make it all bearable and believable. As I watch people I often think they are trying to make sure they are having fun. By their actions and antics it seems like they are desperately asking the question, "Am I having fun yet?"  Often as I hear people's priorities, stories and the things they get excited about, I say (rather judgementally I'll admit) under my breath, "Why don't you get a life.... get a REAL life!"

I know I need time to do things like making love, relaxing in the garden and restoring my soul. There is a certain balance that I may have out of kilter from time to time. But I AM living, really living by helping others. I wouldn't trade this life for the artificial, superficial and unfulfilling options I see that others call "living". On the contrary, I think they are often using distractions to opt out of real living out of fear of the challenges and growth real involvement might demand of them. It is, in my opinion, they who are living a life-denying life.

Me in a race horse stable?

I have this friend who trains trotters. He has a stable with eight horses in it. On Friday he had quite a serious accident on the track while training horses, so today he is bruised, very sore and struggling to move freely. We shared in a church barbecue tea this afternoon so I offered to help him feed his horses tonight. I enjoy his company and tonight I enjoyed his horses. I have not spent much time around horses but have always admired them.  They are big animals up close and they all seemed a bit stroppy tonight. I think their feed was later than normal and they were not happy about it at all. They were stamping their feet on the ground. He just laughed and said, "That's them telling me to hurry up with their tucker!"  I enjoyed the little contact I had with them, feeding them and being with them. My mother used to treat anyone who was in the race horse business as somehow evil and part of a sinful industry. (because of the gambling associated with it) I find this guy who has trained horses for years to be interesting, with heaps of insights into life and I love watching his relationship with his horses as he talks away to them. I had a great evening.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Bits from my journey..

For night time reading I have been looking at a book entitled "More Pocket Positives". I thought I'd share 3 quotations...

"Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful committed citizens can change the world.  Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has." - Margaret Mead, 1901 - 1978 (American Anthropologist)

"I am only one; but still I am one. I cannot do everything, but still I can do something; I will not refuse to do the something I can do." ... Helen Keller, 1880-1968 (Blind and deaf American writer and scholar.)

"I don't know what your destiny will be; but one thing I know: the only ones among you who will be really happy are those who will have sought and found how to serve." - Albert Schweitzer, 1875-1965 (French medical missionary... theologian... musician... writer)

Photos: Taken on my bike ride to town and back tonight. (Bottom to top)

  1. On the harbour-side track it is good to see a number of people, walking, biking, skating and jogging. This exercise "nut" was kayaking, paddling for all he was worth up the harbour.
  2. The track looking toward Dunedin with clouds looming.
  3. After four days of sunshine it looks like Dunedin people can rest easy. The grey cloud we are used to was coming back over tonight. 
  4. I had to wait for one of the few goods trains at the point where the track crosses the railway line. It was gathering speed and shaking the ground as it passed.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

When is it over?

I have been forced to think about this question a few times in my life. It is often a question that raises its head. I was talking to a man the other day who was telling me about his marriage. As he talked I was thinking, "Heck if that was how my marriage was I would be out of there!" I have been with numbers of couples who have struggled with the question, "Is it worth working on our marriage or should we just part company?" Have they drifted apart so much that its just too hard, false and a waste of time to keep "something" alive? If we did preserve it, would it be worth it?

I once rented a house out to tenants. They ripped us off by not paying rent, not looking after the grounds and damaging the house. Each time we would negotiate I would be too soft. When do you kick them out? When do you break ties? I know people at this moment having to ask the same question about tenants.

We run a drop-in centre and sometimes the behaviour of the people there is not what you would like. It has even been threatening or abusive. When do you ban people from the drop-in? You want to be as accepting and as loving as Jesus, but how do you draw the line when the behaviour can hurt others? Sometimes too, for your own sanity you need to cry "Enough!"

Sometimes the relationship is with organisations. I have been in Habitat for Humanity since 1995 but it has changed. I have tried to debate those changes locally, nationally and even internationally at one stage. When do you part company? When do you say "I can't identify with this organisation any more!"? The general identity and thrust of the denomination I am in has changed. (To be fair too, I have changed.) When do I say "goodbye" ? When is it not tenable to call myself a minister in this denomination? I have expanded my theology and thinking about the christian faith. I think I am still a follower of Jesus, but I know some people who would question if I am a Christian or not. Should I get out of ministry because of that?

I have had friendships where I realised that we no longer had common ground. I recall sweating over a letter a friend sent me where he outlined his differences of opinion about the things we were doing together. I strongly disagreed with him, but I knew that if I spoke my mind I would lose a long standing friend. I decided I had accepted rubbish too long and drove around to where he was and told him what I thought. The break up was profound, hurt me deeply and was never fully restored. I met a man down the street just now who was a mutual acquaintance and in conversation was reminded of that deep hurt. But when in friendships do you call it quits? Author Gordon McDonald says that friends should refresh you and not be a drain upon you. They should be an affirming presence in your life. But I guess we all are a draining presence at some time on friend's lives, and we would have no friends at all if we didn't have some tolerance and forgiveness. But when do you draw the line and how do you decide?

I am intrigued about how often this question comes up in life. It's all about tolerance, boundaries, "rights", and what you find helpful or unhelpful for the general direction of your life. All I know is that I have generally stayed "loyal" for too long, and sometimes been unhappy because of it.

Monday, January 25, 2010

BS detector... greasy talk.

A phone call last night got me thinking of a discussion I had with my wife the other day. We decided that over the years we had developed very good "BS detectors". The ambulance helicopter staff were telling me of a detector alert that goes off in the cab of the helicopter. If the craft is getting too near mountain tops this voice comes up and tells them. I think they have called the voice "Betty" with a not very complimentary adjective before it. It is a clearance detector. Well over the years I have developed a "BS detector", a voice goes off in my head to alert me that I am listening to "Bull Shit". It comes in all forms from different people.

Some of my drop-in centre people or others will ask for favours. They will come up and be your best friend, flatter you then ask for money, sometimes with a questionable story. There is one lady who comes and sidles up to me fluttering her well eye shadowed eyelids, being nice to me, promising to come to church, then asking if she can see me in private. (My wife bristles or is fearful of this) Out comes the most amazing stories, often with a sexual overtone, and a request for money. I turn her down because I know she lives with drug addicts. (I have sometimes given her food) Her best punch line was, "I'll just have to go back to prostitution then. You wouldn't want me doing that?"

But then there are "normal" men who do it. Over the top friendliness. They pat you on the back, treat you like their best friend, but somewhere they want something of you. Often they come across almost sleazy, greasy and the detector is going off in my head saying, "Be nice, but don't trust this guy!"

There are women who love to pile on the flattery. They will greet you with all their womanly charms, sometimes flirting and often with flattery. "But you're sooo good" "You do such greaaat things" they ooze. Even sometimes you wonder if the top button is purposely not done up so the cleavage is on show. Women are good at this and we men are regularly sucked in because of our egos. Often then they want something of you. I recall when I was a salesman in a hardware store there were certain women well known for these sorts of tactics. All the sales staff would disappear and leave the naive new comer to deal with them.

Then there is the various religious forms that really irk me. They love to turn it on for a minister. "We know whose in control don't we?" (nudge, nudge) "Bless you David, you serve the Lord sooo well." "I praise the Lord for you. It so good how you serve him! Now would you mind...." I get heaps of PR stuff from various Christian ministries and agencies. I think they must have their greasiest people write up the front cover. "Thank you for your committed support of our ministry. The Lord bless you." (But I gave nothing?!) Then will come some tear jerker story. The whole thrust will be to first flatter you because you have supported them, but also to imply that if you don't support them this time your Christian faith is suspect.

The reasons people do this sort of thing are varied and many. Often they want something. They want you to give them something or do something. Often they want to appear to be your friend for what ever reason. Sometimes they really do not like what you do and what you stand for so they over compensate trying to be nice to you. After all they are "nice" people. But for whatever reason my "Bull shit" detector goes off and I generally go quiet.

I need to be careful because I could just be cynical and this could be the way people want to reach out in friendship. I need to be open to different styles of relating. But I do love to be able to say of someone, "They are fair dinkum. What you see is what you get." I prefer to mix with these sorts of people no matter what their place in society or whether they are in church or out of church.

I am also aware that I lack social graces. I have been compared to "Doc Martin", that rude, socially inept and blunt doctor in the great TV series. May be I should learn a bit of "BS"? Oh well.... its an interesting life and people and relationships are so interesting.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Meaningful meanderings...

As you can see I wandered up "my" mountain yesterday from Bethunes Gully, which is a longer track than I usually take. Again I loved it, and wished I had a really good camera to do justice to the bush experience. First an experience that happened at lunch time today.


  1. Big discovery... proud parents.

    We have a foster daughter named Pania.(This is a photo taken 27th December 2009 on her birthday)   Pania suffers from Rett syndrome. This is a debilitating genetic condition that means she cannot speak, cannot co-ordinate, has intellectual disabilities and a whole host of other difficulties. She cannot do much for herself at all, except feed herself with a spoon, and even then there is plenty of spillage. She is in care now but comes home regularly for a visit. She smiles brilliantly, speaks with her eyes and can giggle with the best of them. We have always known that there is a delay in her processing instructions. If something happens in the delay time to distract her the instruction is forgotten. Today we had pizza for lunch. Two pizza's in two boxes. We had one, with Pania enjoying the food. She looked at the next box and looked at us. We said to her, "You open the box and see if there is another one there for us." She looked at us as if to say, "I can't do that!" But we repeated the instruction and waited. A hand came up and she hit the box. Then that hand went down by her side and we thought that her attempt was all over. But next thing her other hand came up and after a bit of fumbling she lifted the lid of the box, beamed all over her face and poked at the pizza! She could do it! We just had to believe and wait! We celebrated her achievement!

  2. The mountain top goal from about half-way up. At the spot this photo was taken a friend  committed suicide. Every time I walk past it I have a moment of grief. After taking this photo I looked down the steep bank at my feet where the deed was done and simply said in anger and sadness, "You stupid bastard!" (Some months earlier I had recommended the Mt Cargill walk to him as a way of keeping fit!)
  3. A bridge and the path lower down among the exotic trees grown for timber. I talked to a guy this morning whose life is in a bit of a mess. It is so sad, why do people go down stupid pathways in life? I guess I have done a few myself, but why keep repeating the same mistakes.
  4. I simply LOVE these big beautiful ferns. They seem to stand out and shine. I love these in NZ bush, their presence seems to inspire me.
  5. I always think that these exotic trees are the boring part of the walk. They are an annoying ugly patch that I have to pass through to get to the bush I love and enjoy. But yesterday I had to admit they had a beauty of their own with the sun shining through them.
  6. The life that hangs off branches of trees or grows on the trunks of trees always fascinates me.
  7. This twisted tree is just at the entrance to a little side loop track. There are similar trees in the bush. The tree has at one stage in its life broken or blown over. Through the healing of nature it has continued to straighten itself up and kept on growing big and strong. In some ways because of its broader root base it is stronger than it ever was. I think there are people who fit into that category. They have been broken, but have healed and grown out of the rough period of life stronger than ever.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Growing pains....sustainability

The process of personal growth and change is interesting. You are disturbed, sometimes repeatedly, by new thoughts, ideas and concepts. Gradually if you begin to think about these, you become aware that changes need to happen in your lifestyle, world view or belief system. If you are courageous and true to yourself, you make those changes. This process has happened to me again and again in the journey of life. Long may it continue. May I never grow old and stop being changed. I must admit that laziness sometimes means that there is a delay in jumping out of well worn ruts, and sometimes I very easily slip back into them. It is easier to do what everyone else does. Sometimes busyness or distractions mean that I don't give attention to the nudges that "life" or "the Spirit" or whoever gives me. Sometimes I make the choice to ignore the disturbing nudges because I know that the implications may be too hard if I stopped and paid attention.


This topic has been nudging me lately. In the 1970s I read a book by John V Taylor called "Enough is enough". It all made sense. The world we live in cannot sustain the western lifestyle that we've developed. The poor in the world pay for it. The lifestyle is not healthy for us. The earth and its life forms are suffering because of it. We should be leading a happy revolution to make changes. I loved the book and read others and this thinking caused us as a family to explore simpler lifestyles. Busyness tended to squeeze this emphasis out of my life, but in recent times the movement of "God" has challenged my slipping back into old ruts. Al Gore's "An Inconvenient Truth" reminded me that, even if his maths may be wrong, we humans are burying our heads in the sand if we don't make changes to our western lifestyle. More recently I have had contact with Dr Maureen Howard, who runs sustainability classes for the local city council. Her delightful formal and informal challenges have "nudged" me again about this whole area. Even my summer reading raised the issue and challenged the churches to be doing something about it. In an email from Maureen she very briefly gave her ethical base for her stance. It got me thinking about mine. Here is what I came up with.

The picture above is of trampers crossing a river together. You grasp a log or stick that joins you together, so that if one stumbles, the others support them. Joined together you can make the journey safely. I have experienced this on some of my tramps. I believe the picture is a good illustration of the journey of life. Whether we like it or not we are joined together. We are also joined to this universe, the earth and its life forms...( so in the picture the earth can be one character in the group of trampers.) Our journey impacts for good or bad on others. But we are to travel on the journey of life aware of, in sympathy with and supporting each others' journey. (including the earth) There is also in the picture and in the experience the elation of the journey. "We made it together!" So with us, the responsible lifestyle, living aware of the needs of others and the earth, is not a doom and gloom, duty bound way, but a journey full of "togetherness experiences" and joyful expressions of connection. You keep discovering new ways of living out this essential solidarity and there is something deep, "spiritual" and fulfilling in these experiences. They feel like you have touched the very essence of life. Superficial living is a lifestyle that ignores or refuses to recognise the "log" joining us together. Real living is recognising the "log" and finding ways to strengthen and give expression to the essential solidarity it represents. Here is my "ethical" or "spiritual" base for sustainability or life's journey itself. I am essentially joined to others and the earth. My task in life is to find ways to live that out.

I am trying now to work out what that means for giving expression to sustainability in my lifestyle and in the life of my down town church.

Disappointments and questions.
I was one of those who initiated the local Habitat for Humanity affiliate in Dunedin. I loved the concept of "no profit, no interest" and the use of volunteer labour. Since 1995 I have spent countless Saturdays working on thirteen Habitat houses and enjoyed heaps of significant experiences. It was one way of giving profound and practical expression to the essential solidarity I have with people mentioned above. Over the years the bean counters in the higher levels of the organisation have changed the pricing policies for the families we partner with. It is no longer "no profit and no interest". From my perspective they have under cut the very the "spirit" of the organisation. Because of this and my frustrations in trying to change things, I stepped down from being a director, and have just volunteered on site. My wife remained a director and when she returned from a meeting last night I got her to tell me the price being charged for the latest house. It has disturbed me all over again. I am struggling with the question, "Do I want to be identified with this organisation any more?" I feel it has taken the value out of my volunteer hours and the "Jesus-like" heart out of the work. I think I have built my last Habitat house and that is sad. I will have to find other ways to give expression to that essential solidarity.

Sometimes it would be easier to just drift.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vegetable gardening

I have been working in our vegetable garden. I noticed in the paper this morning that Mrs Obama does vege gardening. Our vegetable garden will be nothing like hers. Ours is growing amongst paths with weeds and grass growing prolifically. I get one day off a week so our time for such a pursuits is limited, but we do have a lot of garden growing. We have had a goat and lamb get in and clean up some crops! But as I planted more plants today I could not help but be impressed with what we have produced. 

I can wander around the garden and have refreshments while I work. I can browse on broad beans, (if you eat too many raw ones you get a headache) radish, parsley, two types of lettuce, turnip tops, the goat left me a few sweet chinese peas, lovely little sweet turnips and silver beet leaves. It is so great to sit down already to a meal where most of its contents come from our garden. We have heaps of crops to mature yet and they look to be doing well. Even with little spare time, among the weeds we are growing a useful vegetable garden.

I watched a program on TV last night. They were getting a professional couple and teaching them how to establish a vegetable garden. The couple, clever, "successful" people had bought some seed potatoes to plant and were discussing them. I could not believe what I was hearing. It was obvious from the conversation that they did not have a clue about how potatoes grew, multiplied or were harvested! I can understand people not gardening. There are courses for horses and a variety of situations in life. But I could not believe that they did not know where food they obviously enjoyed and had eaten for years came from! It was a part of our learning about nature at school, how tubers multiply etc. ....we drew little drawings in our exercise book.

Apart from anything else such knowledge helps us appreciate life, the gift of food and the world of nature about us. Sometimes I think in this day and age with our modern technology, we know everything about "everything" but nothing about the basics of life. Life then becomes cheap, superficial and lacking in deeper appreciation and enrichment.

"Useless" but valuable learning. 

On thinking about it, we live in a very pragmatic and utilitarian age. We will learn something if it is useful to us. So we will learn about plant growth and nature if it leads to advancement in scholastic goals or in our career, or if we want to make money by growing our own food. But there is a whole lot of knowledge that is not utilitarian, we cannot "use" it, but it still enhances life. I was press ganged into coaching school boy cricket years ago. I did it for seven years. I am not sure that I taught the boys much, but I certainly learned heaps. I will never be a cricketer, my very average hand-eye coordination (not to mention my age) puts that well out of my grasp. But because I had to learn more about cricket to coach boys, I now really appreciate and enjoy when I can get to watch cricket. Each ball is fascinating to me. Field placings are of interest. The game has come alive for me much more because I know more about it. I have run a number of half-marathons, 10 k races, triathlons and 5 k road races. I will never be a good runner, but now I appreciate so much more about what good athletes put themselves through. The knowledge enriches and enhances my life. I have killed my own meat, chopped down trees for my own firewood and reconditioned car motors. Such experiences and knowledge enrich my appreciation of the meat I eat, the heat I enjoy, the car I drive. At a "spiritual" or deeper level, life is experienced more profoundly because of this knowledge. Knowledge does not just bring skills it brings a deeper appreciation and experience of life. I taste life more deeply because I have learned about these things. My days are therefore much richer because of this. When I die, such knowledge has meant that whatever years of life I have had or what ever experiences or exposure to life I have managed, has been value packed. Because of such non-utilitarian knowledge I have had more "bang for my buck" out of living. In these super-efficient, "bean counter" dominated days, we need to remember that there is more to life than just "production" and "action". "Useless" knowledge enhances life too.

Anyway, I enjoy my vege garden, apart from anything else, it enriches my life and my eating experience.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Exercise & lose weight or else!

My doctor has given me dire warnings about my blood pressure which seems to have gone on a sudden upward spiral. He's all worried and has instructed me to lose weight. I do not like the side effects of my current medication so I would rather try to control it without more pills. So exercise it is.... A fast walk with a friend on Thursday night; a wander up mount Cargill Friday night and a bike ride to and around town today. I'll keep you posted. I suspect it is something else driving the BP up but I can but do my best. Getting older stinks with tightened hamstrings, sore knees and stiff joints.


  • Two views from Mt Cargill summit on Friday
  • That stupid stadium is getting bigger.... from my bike ride today.


It is Friday evening and our normal Friday night Drop-in centre has not started for the year. I went for a walk and had my dinner in front of TV. There was a comedy on, "Are we finished yet".  I saw the first one ("Are we there yet") last week I think. But now two children mum and step dad are a family. The thing that annoys me is that the laughs are all on the male. He is made out to be a bumbling stupid oaf, going from one disaster to the other. The mum is seen as wise, level headed etc. Let me let off steam. How many stupid comedies follow the same line? So called family comedies always have the man as somehow bumbling and stupid and the theme goes from one stupid act to the next... big laugh. TV sit-coms often follow the same formula. Tim the tool man was depicted like this. There was a women's magazine that had a column called "Mere Males" and women wrote in with their "Stupid male" stories. All good fun. ... I say "No!" 

If the roles were reversed and women were the ones poked fun at so often there would be hell to pay! The PC brigade would be madly writing to TV stations and film makers yelling sexism. In my job I hear stories from a lot of men and they feel like that at home. The wife calls the shots. "Are you going fishing this weekend?" "No my wife has a list of jobs for me." "Where are you going for a holiday?" "I would love to go..... but my wife has me going to....." Wander around any mall and you will see wife striding down from shop to shop and husband obediently two steps behind (The proper place for the subservient male) looking as bored as.  You can see them sitting restlessly in the seats that shopping malls sometimes provide, waiting obediently, dreaming of what they could be doing. 

I think its time some men's liberation groups were formed. A lot of wives wield a lot of power, and men are often too scared to be assertive because then they will be called a male chauvinist, and that's evil. He is often between a rock and a hard place. If he expresses his opinion he's a nasty male ogre. If he keeps quiet, well that just goes to show that men are inarticulate and can't express their feelings, or are out of touch with their feelings. If you want us to express our feelings be prepared to listen. When men get written off again and again, they go silent and don't waste their breath.

Anyway I get sick of mindless "family" comedies that poke fun at the male in the family. I don't think they are healthy.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Listening is exhausting

I am tired out tonight. I spent 4 hours at my new chaplaincy today. There is a whole bunch of people I do not know, a culture I do not know and work practices and boundaries I have yet to figure out. 

I wander around and when some poor unsuspecting person catches my eye I stop, introduce myself and question. I listen intently, watching for signals that I have overstayed my welcome, or pushed too hard, or touched on subjects that are out of bounds. But I listen and try to remember the details. (I surprised a lady today when I remembered something she had said to me a few weeks ago.) 

I am still going to this chaplaincy in fear and trembling. I found myself even walking more slowly as I approached the building, trying to think of excuses why I could procrastinate.  I am essentially a shy guy so I need to push myself to meet new people like this. I have even been considering telling my boss I am too busy to take it on, it is so difficult for me to put myself "out there" to a new bunch of people. But when I do, I find I enjoy the conversations. There are interesting people willing to share. Each time I go I meet more people and have long conversations with a few more. It should get easier.

I came home tonight, sat in front of the TV to eat dinner and watch the box... pretty soon I was snoring. It is very tiring listening to people.  My fire fighters have me on and say I get paid for "doing nothing... just having cups of tea". It looks like I am doing nothing, sitting listening. It is however, a very busy, active and intense past time. When it is done well it requires authenticity, concentration and skill.  But it is also very rewarding.  I need to remember that part of it when I am almost overcome by my fear of meeting new people. It reminds me of Jesus' words, "When you lose yourself you find yourself. In giving you receive." Even though I am very shy, I find people's experience of life intensely interesting and my life is enriched by each encounter. Jewish theologian and thinker, Martin Buber says something like "God is in the 'I-Thou' encounter". 

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The fortunate life of a "professional cricketer!"

I've got mates everywhere.
Yesterday was one of those days I had a sense of worth. First thing in the morning I had to go to the doctor to get a renewal of my pills. I sat in the waiting room and a guy named John came in. He had visited our drop-in a few times and had come to the Christmas dinner. He immediately started talking with me about ... life. He used to milk cows in the Waikato. Then he worked at concrete placement. At one stage he asked how old I was. All this in a big loud voice, the whole waiting room of people sitting silently trying to ignore one another, could hear our conversation. But my contacts with him had been important to him. Another guy, Robin walked in. I had not seen him for some years so I was unsure if it was him. The doctor called me in, saw to me and as I went back into the waiting room I said to this guy, "You're Robin aren't you?" Robin was the dad of the second family we at Habitat for Humanity partnered with in Dunedin. He greeted me warmly and we caught up till the doctor called him away. I came back to my office in town, did some work then wandered up town to a chemist to deliver a prescription. Ken, who used to be a street sweeper said, "Hi Dave!" and we stopped and talked. John another Drop-in character said hi. Summer a little girl who attends drop-in called out enthusiastically to me. (The lady looking after her looked at me suspiciously) A woman I know serving in a coffee bar noticed me and gave me the thumbs up.This is the way my my trip for half a block down the main street went. Back at the church Tim called in and told me about his holiday trip to Mt Cook. At lunch time, Ray a soccer player called, Shona and Cameron greeted me warmly. ... Mike from the most recent Habitat house called in... It was one of those days when all sorts of people just said "hi", greeted me warmly and seemed happy to see me... I felt less alone and more worthwhile.
Professional Cricketer?
I visited the Willowbank fire station as their chaplain and it was PT time, when the fire fighters can exercise. This crew were playing tip and run cricket. They had opened the back doors of the engine bay... the firetruck was parked out front and had set up a wicket. (I think it is good for a crew to do such things, it bonds them, gives them exercise and helps their sense of worth. Far better than blobbing out in front of TV! ) When I arrived I was told I was fielding. So we played "backyard" cricket. We laughed, we ran, jumped and screamed as we chased this stupid little tennis ball ricocheting around the engine bay, wash area and yard. This old 61 year old was allowed to be a 10 year old again, batting with vigor, bowling competitively and dashing around like a mad thing. At one stage off my bowling a guy hit the ball so that it landed on the roof of the building next to the fire station. ("Six and out!" seems to still be the universal ruling... that was what it was when I was a kid) Without thinking I clambered up a fence, on to the roof to retrieve the ball. Clambering across the roof, I thought, "How silly, we have a fire truck laden with ladders!" but ten year olds don't think like that. As I was climbing down (it was easier going up) I thought, "I am getting paid for doing this! Does that make me a professional cricketer?" The little stiffness and soreness of my muscles today remind me that I am not 10, I am 61... but it was fun.
I lead a most fortunate life!

(An aside... when I first started as chaplain to the fire brigade I visited a station where cricket was being played. The ball, a hard one this time was struck firmly and I crouched confident I could catch the guy out. It went through my grasping hands and hit me on the testicles... as I rolled in agony there was of course much hilarity. I was leaving after visiting another fire station a few days later when the officer winked at me. "Watch out for flying cricket balls won't you?" The story had obviously gone around the grape vine very quickly.)

Monday, January 11, 2010

European travel plans?

We have a son who is having a Polish wedding ceremony in Poland in July. We have said that we will get there. We look forward to meeting her family. This week we are in the process of booking our tickets to Europe. It will probably be the only time we will get there in our life. We hope to spend a few weeks there so we are wondering what would be a good use of our time? We do not have a lot of excess money to spend, but want to use what we have wisely.

Does anyone have any suggestions? Are there things a progressive Christian minister should see in Europe or the UK? Are there Christian ventures worth visiting. What is truly worth visiting? Are there some nice country walks to explore? Any suggestions would be welcome?

Just thought there may be more knowledgeable people out there. We have never been to Europe.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Sunday's worblings

You never know...

Running church services at this time of the year is hard anyway, so many regulars are away. I was so frustrated before church this morning. We have one guy who looks after the sound desk in the church and for some reason it always plays up when he's on it. I play a DVD and the sound's too soft. There is feedback when people are reading. I want a meditative song to come on at a certain time and there's delays. It's not always his fault, but I get frustrated. Also I have told you before that I do not enjoy organ music and for most of the songs we had today I would have preferred other music other than the organ, but that is all that's available. In the last few minutes before church I expressed my frustration to my daughter. "You put a lot of thought into putting together a service but it is not supported by other parts of the church! Why on earth do I try so hard? What's the use? What difference does it make anyway?"  Just before I walked forward to the platform a guy I know came into church. I greeted him and immediately he started to tell me of his adult son who had attempted suicide yesterday. (I had conducted the son's wedding about a year ago) I walked to the platform and surveyed the congregation. I saw someone who had recently had important surgery; another who had been battling cancer; a visitor couple who had lost two sons to cancer; and I could go on with other situations and circumstances. The theme of the service was "faith". "Good grief!" I thought, "What can I say that will support these people?" 

After the service I made a beeline to the guy and asked more about his son. We were interrupted by a tourist who wanted music for three of the songs we used, she had been so helped by the service. She wanted to take a photo of me and her! I talked with a group of visitors who were so pleased they came,"It was good to be with you, such a good service!" My daughter came to me, she had been talking to the guy whose son had attempted suicide. He was glad he came, "He said it was just what he needed to hear!" she reported. "See," she said, "You never know! It was worth it! You made a difference." (I'll remind her of that when she's screaming at me in frustration.) It is a weird, scary and awesome responsibility, but also a privilege. I'll give it a go again next week.

Old is not useless!

On Boxing day I went into the Silver Peaks with my son for a bit of a day tramp. I wear an old back pack (see the photo) that I have had for years. As I tightened the waist belt the stitching gave way and the strap broke. I carried on but it led to a discussion with my son as he inspected the pack while walking behind me. "Isn't it time to get a new one?" he said. "It's well past it's used-by date! Look the stitching is breaking all over it!" As we walked and talked I worked out that I had bought the pack just after he was born. We were living in Australia and I was going to be study leader at a youth camp where they were going "bush walking" for a night. (the Australian term for a tramp) I purchased it at a K-mart store for $12.  (which sounds cheap - it was the cheapest I could find - but was a lot of money for a married theological student in 1974) It and I had been on many a walk, and I tend to use it as a travel bag when I am going on trips away from home. I find it good to get off the plane and be able to sling it on my shoulder. I had sewed it up a few times. I like it, it is comfortable on my back, it has convenient pockets and as I walk it gives of a comforting squeak with each step. I objected to my son's "Get a new one" opinion and have since spent time with needle and nylon thread sewing it up once again. I guess as I sewed I got to talking silently to the pack. (I talk silently because they might lock me up otherwise!) I told the pack "Just because we are old does not mean we are useless! Given a bit of care we can still do stuff. Sometimes just when we are getting the hang of what life is all about we are dumped! Considered past our used by date! But we'll show them! You and I will still go on walks for a long time yet!" It is true, sometimes people see grey hair and write you off! "Bugger them!" I say. My old pack agrees with me.

Two good books...

While in Christchurch I purchased three books. One was about building houses in NZ. It will be good when I am expected to know something on the Habitat site. But two others I came across are great little books. They are picture books, like children's books, easily read, but meant for adults. They talk about "depression".  "I had a black dog". (His name was depression) and "Living with a black dog" (How to take care of someone with depression while looking after yourself) I read the first in the bookstore and identified so much with it. The second also rang bells. I kept saying, "That's so true!". Some of you will know that I have a "black dog" who makes his presence felt from time to time. As I read the first I felt acknowledged, less alone and understood. "Someone else has the same struggles!" I thought. They are by Matthew and Ainsley Johnstone. I commend them to you if you or a loved one have a black dog.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

"But she's gorgeous?"

I am just back from a chaplaincy. I have been intrigued by people's responses to Tiger Wood's infidelity. It has often come up in conversations in the workplaces I visit. Frankly I am tired of still seeing it in the news items. The media milk it for everything its worth. Perhaps the most common comment I have heard from people, most often men, is, "Why would he stray? His wife is gorgeous? Have you seen her?" I wish to explore the implications behind that comment.

I do not want to excuse Tiger in any way. It's not for me to judge, but at the very least he was using the wrong body part to make his decisions with! Twelve extra marital liaisons is pushing his luck, it was bound to be exposed at some time. It's just greedy and a bit stupid. I could understand a friendship going too far or something like that, but twelve is silly.

But I want to know why people think having a gorgeous beautiful wife would stop a man from straying? Apart from her looks, we have no idea what she was like as a person or in a relationship? Since when does "being beautiful" equate with "being a nice person to live with"? Since when does "being gorgeous" equate with "being a good lover"? She could be useless in bed and even though she is gorgeous, she could look at him with loathing, so much so that any other girl showing interest, becomes attractive.

Now I must confess that my experience with women is VERY limited. I have only slept with and married the one woman, so my comments are not very empirically based. I have, however, had cause to listen to a lot of people talk about their marriages. In my anecdotal experience marrying a gorgeous person does not guarantee compatibility, satisfaction in bed or any particular advantage. There are gorgeous and "plain" women who make great life-partners and there are gorgeous and "plain" women who will always fail at their long term relationships. We are fooled by advertisers, biology and our own twisted thinking into thinking that beauty guarantees happiness. Let me tell you of an example from very early on in my life. There was this couple I knew, she was gorgeous. She also was fun to be around, often joking and the life of the party. Often too sexual innuendo was part of the conversation. I am sure that many men would look at her husband and think, "He's got the perfect wife. She gorgeous, fun and interested in sex!" He got to talk to me once about their relationship. He was hurt, disappointed and in some ways he had lost his confidence as a man. It turned out that apart from early in their marriage when she wanted to "make babies", this bombshell was virtually never interested in sexual activity. When it did happen it was grudgingly "given" and perfunctory. Now if he was to be unfaithful to her, most people would ask, "But why? She's gorgeous?" But the reality of the relationship was different.

I raise this because I think we have some values that could lead us to hurt and trouble. I am sure that famous men like Tiger, or film stars often go for gorgeous women, because they are like a fine peice of clothing, they add value to their public image. In the successful choice of a life partner, or in building a sustainable relationship, in spite of what the advertisers for various beauty enhancing products suggest, physical beauty is not a big factor. There are deeper things to attend to, to value and to look out for in a relationship. Remember the old "Lemon tree" song, it could be true. "Lemon tree very pretty, and the lemon flower is sweet, but the fruit of the poor lemon is impossible to eat." This is not to rail against beautiful women or people. It is just a warning to say that there is an inner beauty to appreciate that is more important.

I must say in closing, that I have no idea what Tiger Wood's wife is like. She could be a very nice person. I am just saying, her beauty does not guarantee that. It is an incorrect assumption that is often made. It's other implication is also dangerous. That is that we "ordinary" or "plain" people are somehow inferior because we do not look "beautiful". I am intrigued that the reactions to Tiger's infidelity seem to make this mistake.

Monday, January 4, 2010

People and stories from the past.

On Sunday afternoon we drove the four and half hours to Christchurch to spend time with our two boys there and their partners. They were unable to come for Christmas this year so we wanted to catch up with them. Our daughter and husband were also visiting Christchurch. We had pizza on Sunday night with some; we all had a picnic and spent the afternoon together on Monday; this morning we had morning tea with our youngest. We drove home this afternoon. (Tuesday .... it is a long way to go for such a short time but people and relationships are worth it.)

At our picnic my kids, now adults, started telling stories about our family life. For example; Jean used to make a walnut loaf (vegetarian meat loaf thingy) that the kids hated. They used to drown it in tomato sauce to eat it. They told of various hairy experiences we had as a family and some weird things I got up to. (which I won't repeat) They also shared stories about their teachers and some of the local kids and their antics. As I drove home I got to thinking about the stories and my own past. I drive around Dunedin and keep on seeing the homes of people, now dead, who have been in my life. In North East Valley... May and Harry Smith up Watts Road. Brown and Brooks old building on the main street, the firm that Dad had with his brother. (Its up for rent at the moment) Mrs Michaud's old home where she and Alec lived. It was once my Grandmother's house. Betty Galland's house in Mechanic street. As young adults we once painted and wallpapered it to raise funds for some church project. ... and I could go on. As I remembered while I drove I recalled many of the  people and experiences we had in our childhood. This afternoon we drove through Hampden and I recalled a family holiday there with relatives visiting. We drove through Waikouaiti and I actually secretly saluted the farm house on the hill where George and Bessie used to have us kids for holidays and I learned so much about life.  All of us are our own person, but we have within us the good and bad experiences of the past. I am thankful that though we were poor, I did have so many essentially good people who were influences on me in my childhood. I would differ with them as I grew up, and remember getting frustrated with some of them. But essentially their impact was wholesome, caring and resulted in happy memories and stories. I am indebted to so many people. Thanks for the memories, but thanks for the positive shaping... I hope I in my turn, leave good memories when I am just a memory.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Bucket list sermon.

I have resisted the temptation to put sermons on my blog, preferring lighter reflections on life. I am going to share tomorrow's sermon outline because it is, in a sense, “me” sharing why I am a “JC’s helper”. Here, I think, is what I would say if I had only one sermon left to preach.

The reading set for the day comes from John’s gospel, (John 1:1 – 18) which is often called the “Prologue to John”. The author of John has had time to think and allow his thinking to evolve, so within this passage and his gospel are a lot of developed theology and evolved understandings. John uses religious terminology and mythical concepts of the cultures of his day to express his experience of Jesus. I could show you my theological and exegetical expertise by exploring these, but rather I want get behind these and explore what John is saying about his experience of Jesus. I find myself saying a loud “amen” to that, though his metaphysical musings these days may not ring bells.

 I walked up Mount Cargill and surveyed the city of Dunedin, thinking of the year ahead. I could see the heads of Otago harbour, pan past the communities on both sides of the harbour, the inner-city area through to the hill suburbs and beyond. It was evening and you could imagine households slowing down for the night. It is a very pretty city, looking very peaceful and calm. In the newspaper, however, I had read of a sexual assault in Mornington, a chainsaw attack in Caversham and alcohol fueled disturbances in town. From my experiences as an inner-city minister (Drop-in centre work etc.) a workplace chaplain to people in emergency services and my pastoral contacts in the community and chaplaincy, I am aware that all is not well for many people and households in the “pretty city”. That day I had an alcohol addicted young man yelling at me demanding that I give him money. (My heart ached for him because he will end up living a wasted life and I warned him of that) I know that many marriages within the city are a mere shadow of what marriage should be, with hurting people desperate for intimacy they don’t know how to achieve. I know of lives limping from crisis to crisis, hungering for acceptance, love, and meaning. I am aware my perspective could be warped by the sad tales I am constantly exposed to, and that there is much to celebrate, but I feel the hurt in this one city I am “called” to minister in. When my mind wandered nationally and internationally, I began to despair. An economic system that is fragile. There are big barriers building between cultures, religions and perspectives. I see the symptoms of incredible poverty of both the material and the “inner-being” kind.  That’s why I want to pass on this sermon outline about what John said of Jesus. I do this not in an imperialistic prosylatising exclusive way, (for Jesus’ “way” is found in many places) but just because I ache for people and think Jesus has something to offer them.



“In him appeared life and this life was the light of humankind” …. “That was the true light which shines upon everyone…” Verse 4 &  9 J.B.Phillips paraphrase.


John had mixed with Jesus in life and after his death continued to follow “the way”. He drew up all sorts of perhaps culturally dated theological expressions of the impact of Jesus on his life, but essentially his commendation to us is “he brought life-giving light into my life”. That’s my testimony to my readers. Jesus brings into my life “light” that illumines and is life giving. I have a bare patch on my lawn that is slowly decreasing. It is bare because a deceased car was parked there hiding the light from the grass. Now the car is gone, light is hitting the ground, and life and grass is returning. Jesus does this for me. His teachings, principles and the life-style he promotes, (though revolutionary, challenging to common wisdom and often incredibly highly idealistic) bring into my life insight, healing perspectives and constructive attitudes I would otherwise not reach for. He is for me life-giving light. While I am far short of his ideals, my life is enriched because of the light he gives. I looked at this young man yelling at me wanting a hand out, hooked on whatever buzz liquor gives, and wished he could know the intoxication of “the way”. I listen to grumbling spouses, cynical middle aged men and young people chasing the latest fad. Part of me sometimes inwardly groans, “Get a life!” but I ache for them and wish they could know the deep fulfillment of “the way”. I am not wanting “bums on pews”, nor a bigger bunch of religious fanatics, (the Lord knows we have enough of them) but the experience of more whole living by people I love and ache for. From my experience, I agree with John, Jesus is “life-giving light”!

 I can be a better person!

“Yet wherever people did accept him he gave them the power to become children of God.” Verse 12 J B Phillips paraphrase.

 In this verse and the verse to follow, and in the gospel itself, using various phrases familiar to the people he was writing to (“Life eternal” “born from above” “resurrection” “life abundant” etc) John passes on his experience that when he lived his life in partnership with Jesus he, somehow became a better person. Again that is my daily experience. I am a human being with all sorts of failings. I can be racist, sexist and destructive. I can be filled with lust, tempted to stray, incredibly and destructively angry, motivated by revenge and blinded by apathy. I can be self-centred, full of my own self-importance, selfishly longing for affirmation, acknowledgement and reward. I can be stunted by self- doubt, fearful of rejection, and incredibly self-obsessed. Like most of us, (I hope) I struggle to be a better nobler person every day. But my experience is that living with an awareness of Jesus and his way, empowers me to be a better person. On Sunday afternoons I usually go for a run/walk or some exercise. There are few Sundays I miss out on this. Last Sunday it came to the normal time for my exercise and I just blobbed out. Why? Well you see my normal running partner is in Perth. Going out there on my own after a busy Christmas was not attractive. Having a partner to be answerable to would have motivated me. I have found the same with my gym membership. When I was taking people with me, or meeting mates there, I was motivated. Alone it is so difficult to make the time. Jesus motivates me to be a better person in the same way. Of course I am tempted, selfish and react to people with destructive attitudes, but inside my “running partner”, Jesus, challenges me and calls me to higher living. There is one other thing about Jesus, that I find an incredible inner resource. I sense in Jesus’ the searching of a whole line of people looking for a better way. Abraham seeking more whole living for the communities he encountered; Moses wanting his people to be free; Isaiah, Amos and other prophets longing for a fair deal for the poor; Socrates, Plato and heaps of philosophers looking for basic guidelines; John the Baptist looking for integrity of religion; Francis of Assisi connecting with creation and the poor; William Wilberforce challenging the slave traders; Martin Luther King; Albert Schweitzer; Gandhi; Nelson Mandela; Trade Union founders; Desmond Tutu; and there are heaps of known and unknown searchers after truth, justice and harmony. In Jesus I sense the same inner-motivation of these people, each seeking to express in their time in their way (though often like me with feet of clay) a spirit of life and love. So as I live I experience an incredibly motivating sense of partnership in life and history with Jesus and all these people who have gone before or who are part of the same searching now. This is dynamic inner motivation to be a better person. I am given power to be better than I would other-wise be.

Deeper mysteries clarified.

“So the word of God became a human being and lived among us. We saw his splendour… full of grace and truth.” Verse 14 J B Phillips paraphrase.

 It was John’s contention that in Jesus we could see the mind of God, and that was full of grace and love.  I agree, but find this incredibly hard to communicate, because the word “God” is a mystery to most of us and often misunderstood. “God” for me is not “a being” watching us “from a distance”. (Sorry Bette Middler) He is a layer of reality, a presence or a current of life and love that is within life. Watching “Border Patrol” on TV there is one activity that reminds me of what John says about Jesus and God. There is discovered in some parcel or luggage a mysterious substance. What is it? They take a sample and put it in a solution or gadget, and by a change of colour of some liquid or a reading on a dial, it shows that within the substance there are levels of some drug. The gadget or liquid expose or reveal the nature of an ingredient that is otherwise unseen. That’s what John is saying about the life of Jesus. His life and way brings to the fore the nature of the unseen life or current of God within the lives we lead. Jesus’ life indicates for me two things. We live in the presence of a spirit who loves us unconditionally and desires for all of us fullness of life in every way. (From the starving orphan in the Sudan, to the spiritually starving rich film star in Hollywood) This “Spirit” or “movement” is expressing “him/her-self” in history and in lives, connections, relationships, movements and communities about us, seeking to bring LIFE. Secondly Jesus exposes or reveals what is ultimately important in life. He cuts through the crap of materialism, consumerism, power-seeking, status, imperialism, misguided patriotism etc. and simply shows that what is important is people, and the quality of the relationships and connections between people. Are they respectful, constructive, life-giving, life enhancing, harmony inducing, liberating. Etc.? So for me Jesus clarifies the atmosphere, deeper purposes and eternal values that are a part of the existence we share together. He reveals, exposes and gives “flesh” to the mystery we name “God”.


Jesus brings life giving light to my life, he empowers me to be a better person and clarifies the deeper meanings and movements of life. I wish the many hurting people I encounter could find this experience in their living. I wish the leaders of the nations could know these directions. I wish the rich people trading spouses and trying to find satisfaction in ways they never will, could know this. I wish I trusted it more in my lifestyle.

Revelations 3:20... John has a vision of Jesus saying this... "Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me." All I can say is I have a better life because of Jesus.


(1) Me in my pulpit. Francis of Assisi said something like, "Preach the gospel always in season and out of season. If you have to ... use words."

(2) Jesus is for me light for the pathway of life.