Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, February 28, 2010

I love my country...

I have been traveling up to the north of the South Island of New Zealand and then driving down the centre of the island back home. 

We stopped at Hamner, with lovely bush clad mountains all around. Soaking in the thermal pools with the rain falling was just a fantastic feel. We drove through to Nelson then Kaiteriteri. There were lovely golden sand bays with warm water and beach forests. Driving south through the Lewis Pass, you are surrounded by impressive bush, mountains and hills. After spending a further night at Hamner (we love those pools) we stopped at the township of Oxford where we had memories of our teenage courting days. Ashley Gorge with its river and picnic grounds is a great place... the sand flies think so too! Another special place for us was Jones' Gully, but we had forgotten how to get to it. We asked several locals who did not know of it's existence. Finally while I was looking at a map on the information centre board an older man approached me and asked what I was looking for. I told him and he said, "Oh yes, I know that, I have been shooting there years ago... its all overgrown now though!" He was right. It was definitely not like the memories we had of it, and there were unwelcoming "keep out" type signs all around it.  We continued our travels down the scenic route through the Canterbury Plains. There are the foot hills and mountains of the Southern Alps on your right, beautiful rivers that you cross and the expansive fertile Canterbury plains on your left.  We stopped at Tekapo, that picturesque blue lake with mountains every where you look. There we sat in the hot pools watching the sun go down and the stars come out. Lightening flashes in the distance gave an extra dimension, lighting up the sky for an instant colouring the clouds. The next day as we drove past the end of Lake Pukaki, there was a breath taking view of Mount Cook glistening in the sun. Through the Lindis Pass we saw dry paddocks coming alive through irrigation and the large expanses of the growing number of vineyards. The rugged Central Otago hills, the lakes and finally the Dunedin hills and harbour made us feel very proud of the scenery of good old New Zealand. I love my country! ... but...

As we drove the roads around Northern Canterbury we heard the news that three teenagers had lost their lives unnecessarily through road accidents in the area. Our road toll is appalling. We read too of racist attacks on the streets of Christchurch. When we sat in the pools of Tekapo a local resident was ranting to tourists from the UK in the most racist way and implying that that was the way all Kiwis thought about Maori. I had to move on before I said something nasty to him. Unfortunately, though most of us try our best not to be racist, there are sad expressions of racism still alive and well in NZ. There's a big list of other sad things.

  • A big gap between rich and poor that is widening with its attendant law and order problems.
  • Over crowded prisons, recidivist criminals common and a big proportion of our population in prison.
  • We have, one of the highest youth suicide rates in the world.
  • Our health system, once a shining example for the rest of the world, is struggling to cope with real needs people have.
  • We have a major binge drinking culture and mindset impacting on many people's lives. A man who works in our court system told me of the number of young teens regularly being taken to our hospital emergency departments, and then said, "That's just the tip of the iceberg of the problem!" 
  • Abuse of children seems to happen regularly and sexual violence is always in the news.

I could go on... New Zealand is a very beautiful country. I love it. It still offers a great lifestyle, freedom and relative security. But there are lots of people hurting, cracks in our systems and people left behind or spat out the back.  I saw a film the other night. There was a beautiful lady as one of the characters. But under that beauty there were all sorts of problems that emerged. New Zealand is a bit like that.  At first glance she looks idyllic, but there are troubles under the surface. My holiday reading was Michael King's "History of New Zealand" so I have been thinking of my country as I drove through it. As I holidayed, and was moved by the richness of the beauty all around me, I once again felt the restlessness and "call" to keep on trying to make a difference for good in "God's own". I try to be a citizen of the world, but I do love my country.


  1. Out at sea off the Tasman National Park at sunset
  2. Lake Tekapo as it was when I went for a jog along the shore.
  3. Looking down into Ashley Gorge.
  4. The beach where I conducted my son's wedding.

A life on 25 acres?

I have had ten days away. I went as far as Kaiteriteri and the Tasman National park in the North of the South Island and traveled back down the centre of the island home again. I missed blogging and face-book. I decided that I am a 61 year old with an Internet addiction! I have a number of blogging posts brewing. 

This cottage in the photos above is near Mapua, not far west of Nelson. (Mapua is "famous" for its "Clothing optional" camping ground and beach area.) We noticed a sign pointing to the cottage location off the main highway. It is a history lesson just to visit it and walk around it. It has been restored and you can see how it was built. There is a basic framework put together with no nails, manuka pegs are used to bind the frame together. It is made of a rammed earth construction with an outer plaster made of a mixture of "stuff". It has a thatched roof, rammed earth floor, very simple home made door locks and interesting wooden spouting. There is a main room down stairs with an adults' bedroom off it. There are very low "bed" platforms in the ceiling space upstairs with a vertical ladder up the wall and through a manhole as access. I guess this was the bedroom for the children. Cooking was done over the open fire and there was a small room off the back veranda which was a pantry/storeroom area .... a very small cottage compared to today's dwellings. 

The thing that intrigued me was the story behind the cottage. I cannot remember the names of the original builders but here roughly is their story. We'll call them "Mr and Mrs Smith" and Mr Smith's brother. They arrived in NZ after a sailing ship journey from England in 1858 and settled on a block of farm land.  The two men set to and built the cottage. The family lived there for four decades, raising their children there and no doubt growing old together! It would have been a bit of a squash and life would have been pretty tough. The thing that intrigued me is that they farmed just 25 acres of land and presumably made a viable living off it! How? How come we do not see 25 acres as an economical unit these days? We have all sorts of advances in farm technology. It seems to me to be a marvelous feat to have just 25 acres of land (granted that it is very fertile and in a climate that is great for growing things) and make a decent sort of living! 

Why can't we do it today? As I thought about it, life was simple and very direct. My guess is that Mr Smith milked a few cows and sold his milk to locals near by. He would not have health regulations, health inspectors and dairy farm inspectors breathing down his neck. It would be dished out via a ladle into billy cans, not treated and put into sterilised bottles or other containers like today's milk. There would be no "middle-men" and super-market chains making their profits from it. He probably did the same sort of thing with his produce, fruit and meat. His farm vehicle would be a faithful horse that did not need petrol, oil and mechanics and by the time it was worn out, it may have reproduced itself several times over. Life was tough but oh so simple then. 

I looked at this cottage, its construction, its door locks and fences and thought "I have been born in the wrong age. I would loved to have worked, and lived in this way!" (We once were called the "self-sufficient Browns" when we lived in an old cottage, milking goats, growing veges and keeping hens.  I recall that when the door lock broke, we were so poor that I constructed a wooden door lock just like the ones in Mr Smith's cottage) ...... but.... 

As I sped on (at a 100 kph of course) toward Nelson, I realised that had I lived in the late 1800s  I would not have had the pleasure I get from driving car, cornering and mastering the gearbox and motor. Nor would I be able to write something, knowing that my words could be read the same day on the other side of the world. Maybe I would prefer this age after all.... but I still admire "Mr and Mrs Smith" and wish that life was a bit more straight forward than it is today.  

Saturday, February 20, 2010

My son Phil's wedding.

Photos: bottom to top
  • Bride and groom arrive at the beach setting
  • Saying their vows to each other
  • Family and friends greet the couple after the ceremony
  • On the boat travelling to another beautiful bay for the wedding meal.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Plums, a sign of "Grace".

Last night I picked plums. I have a red welt right across my left eyeball from where a branch of a plum tree sprung and hit me in the eye. (Some say it was only a twig but it felt like a branch!)

As I was picking plums until it got so dark I could hardly see them, I thought how amazing they are! We have these three trees. Two of them just grew up accidentally from some plum thrown in the shrubbery. We don't do anything to them or for them. Yet in a good year they produce so many plums the wood pigeons, the black birds and the Browns can have heaps, and more to spare! I think Jean said we picked 21 Kg yesterday ... and, as you can see, there's heaps left! Plum jam, plum sauce and stewed plums for desserts. (Stewed plums and ice cream is the food I expect to receive in heaven.... just a little tang and colour that sets off the ice cream nicely.)

I digress... as I was picking I thought these plums are an illustration of "Grace"... free unmerited favour. We do nothing, no cultivating, no pruning, no watering, etc etc. ... all we have to do is pick, prepare and eat! That is sheer "grace". And when you think about it much of life is like that. So much that I enjoy I did not earn. ... the freedoms I enjoy, the opportunities for education, recreation and growth, the NZ climate and environment, friendships, ... and I could go on. So much of life is "Grace". I should be more grateful than I am.

Monday, February 15, 2010

May "the Force" be with you.

Yesterday I took the funeral of a 32 year old who died of an accidental overdose and I had a big dose of an experience that keeps me in this stupid, frustrating job. It happens on a smaller scale all the time, but yesterday it was more intense. I'll try to describe it for you.

In the film "Billy Elliot" a young boy, Billy loves to dance. After all sorts of opposition and drama with his family, his father and he are sitting in front of the panel of the Royal School of ballet being interviewed after his dance audition. Things had not gone too well. As they were leaving the interview one of the panelists stopped Billy and asked him, "What does it feel like when you are dancing?" Billy stuttered for a while then said, "Like 'lectricity, yeah just like 'lectricity!" That is how I would describe leading the funeral yesterday, sad and difficult though it was.

After the funeral the boy's dad said it was the best service he had been at, "bar none". Big tough firefighters were grasping my hand and saying "Congratulations" with real emotion. I did a good job... not perfect... but I "connected". As 300 people gathered for the funeral I wandered around full of nervous energy, wondering how it would go. I began and had confidence that my prepared words were the right ones for these people. I came to what I call an "affirmation" (for those without faith) or a "prayer" (for those who can identify with that) and I sensed I had the people still with me. I had chosen to read 1 Corinthians 13 ("Love is all important") introduced it and as I read a contemporary version of this, I sensed that it was relevant and being listened to. After tributes and a reflection time I spontaneously added a prayer of thanksgiving for the love given and received in this boy's life, ... it "hit" me and seemed the right thing to do. When I came to the final part of the service I said I wanted to share some personal thoughts as an "old minister". I talked about seeing too many stunted lives in my forty years of working with people and challenged people to cherish their life and the lives of others. I called on them to give some meaning to the young guy's death. I finished with, "Whatever you do, do not leave this tragedy behind without learning something from it that will add to your life in a positive way". During this time you could hear a pin drop and all ears, minds and hearts were tuned in. It was like "'lectricity!" In some ways I had taken a risk but it seemed right.

Hard work
I know I am better than average at funerals. (and at communicating messages) Someone said to me, "It's a gift you have." I recalled the words of violinist Pablo Sarasate. "A genius! For thirty seven years I've practised fourteen hours a day, and now they call me a genius!" Well gift or not good communication and good funerals do not come easily. I put a lot of work into that funeral. There were two visits to the family, not just gathering information and making arrangements, but sensing where they were at, and who would be there, and what their needs were. Then there were the hours in bed at night lying awake stewing (... cogitating with "God") over what should be said. There were the hours of preparation, typing it out, rewording it, refining and making sure it was "me". Added to this there were 16 years of building a relationship with the father and other firefighters who were there. Good funerals do not just happen, they are a result of hard work.

But it is a "Grace" or "Gift" .. it is by "the grace of God"
As people thanked me (some others averted their eyes and looked sheepish.. I had touched a nerve about their lifestyle) I became amazed. "Is this me? Shy old David Brown who led this so well? He who at one stage could not stand up in front of people without falling to pieces?He who does not claim to have a good grasp of the english language?" How does this happen? Hard work but also the movement of "God". I loved the Star Wars scene where Luke Skywalker (I think) was on a mission to target some area of the nasty peoples' ship. As he was going in he remembered "the Force" and relied on it... of course he was successful. "May the force be with you" I believe are good words to remember as we try to follow Jesus' way. God, that mysterious, eternal layer of reality does work through us! Somehow the right words "came" to me as I prepared. Somehow I was able to read the situation correctly. Somehow the need for that spontaneous "love prayer" hit me. Somehow this shy old man established rapport. Only through the activity of God. It is a gift.

My understanding
Here is how I understand it. There is a movement among us toward love. What we have named "God" is that movement in human history who works toward love, justice, liberty and wholeness. If I am concentrating on the needs of others, wanting to minister or care for them, aching for them and their needs, this "force" works in us, flows through us, enlivens us and empowers us. If I am there for my own selfish ends, to show off or to just "do the job" I block the flow and it is dead. Love opens the doors for God ("the force") to flow naturally through our mind, heart, facial expressions and voice and "electricity" happens.
This happens whether I am a minister, a ballet dancer, a manager, a mechanic or a colleague. Where there is the attempt at genuine love "God" flows through that relationship or encounter. We can do things, understand things, think things and sense things we otherwise could not do. I get annoyed at the stupid interpretations, mechanical thinking and dogma surrounding "spiritual gifts". This is how I understand "Spiritual gifting". It is why 1st Corinthians 13, the love chapter comes after chapter 12 where gifts are talked about. God's love flows through our different personalities in different ways. A spiritual gift is a way we have of expressing the love at the heart of the universe. We each have different ways of doing this, and unfortunately mine happen to be in ministry type ways... I cannot get out of this job that annoys me so much. It is my "calling", through it I truly express who I am. Let me say too, that I have met people who have turned off religion, who have a passion for love, justice and wholeness through whom the "Spirit" works. I discover in these people a "connection" that is a spiritual "God connection" even though they would not name him. "God" or the "Great Spirit" is a force greater than our descriptions of "him", and often our dogma is almost blasphemous. May "the force" be with you (I am glad he was with me yesterday)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Frustration mixed with Hope!


In Dunedin attached to the Early Settlers Museum there are two big glass "cabinets". Each one houses a steam engine, one called Josephine, (1872) and the other JA 1274. They are safely kept out of the weather, behind glass walls, sitting there for tourists to gawk at. On a bike ride a couple of weeks ago I came across a train enthusiast, near a train crossing while I was risking life and limb to photograph a passing train. We got talking, as you do, and he said it was "criminal" to have these two gorgeous machines sitting there stationary, unable to fire up. He is not alone. Many have said that such vintage machines such as cars and engines should be able to do what they are designed for. They should be able to have a full head of steam, to hiss and roar, and move as they were designed. They should not just be locked up as stationary exhibits.

I have come to the conclusion that many Christians (perhaps even the majority of them) are "Josephine Christians". They just sit behind glass cabinets looking good! But that is not what they are meant for. They are meant to be let loose in the world with a passion for making a difference in love. But they choose to just sit in Churches looking good, or may just "believe" from a distance. Their core values are often still the materialism and consumerism of the world about them, with a little bit of religion on the side.

My difficulty is that I have to preach to these Christians. I look at the Bible readings for the day and to someone who is following Jesus they are inspiring, challenging and fortifying. But as I think about the "Josephine Christians" I think, "What's the use in spelling out the meaning in this passage? It means nothing if you are sitting still! It is only real, relevant and comes alive when you are moving, trying to make a difference or actually out there beyond the glass cabinet seeking to express the way of Jesus." But "Josephine Christians" just want dusted and polished from time to time, and efforts to "fire them up" or "get up a head of steam" just wash over them.... "there's poor idealistic David ranting about stuff again." Nearly every week I ask myself, "Why waste my efforts? They really don't want to move. Their idea of Christianity and mine is just so different! It's like trying to teach people who don't want to fish, to fish." It bores the hell out of them, and the fish are safe! While jogging past the two steam engines I came up with a fantasy story. 

Mr Brown was a coal merchant in Dunedin town. While driving past the Early Settlers Museum, he noticed two steam engines. Business was going well, he was feeling generous, so he drove his truck to his yard and filled it with coal. "They are steam engines," he said, "they could use some coal I am sure!" He drove his big truck to the lawn outside the cabinets and tipped the tons of coal on the lawn. "They will be so surprised, they have free coal for their steam engines." he said with a satisfied grin on his face. The museum manager was surprised, she rushed to the telephone and rang the police! "There's a man dumping coal on my lawn!" she yelled. The Police rang Psychiatric Services and they all rushed to the scene. "Why are you dumping coal on my lawn?" the manager yelled at Mr Brown. "Why indeed?" said the policeman looking stern.  Mr brown pointed to the steam engines and said with a smile on his face, " They need it! They are steam engines, they need coal to run! It's free, I'm giving it to you!" Pulling at her hair, the manager screamed at Mr Brown, "No they don't! They just sit there!" "But they're steam engines" protested Mr Brown, looking puzzled. "You're a vandal and you're disturbing the peace!" said the policeman. The Psychiatrist looked patronisingly at Mr Brown, "It's inappropriate to give these engines coal, you're delusional, come with us and we'll talk about this." As they led Mr Brown away you could hear him still protesting, "B-b-but they're steam engines? They need coal!" "No they don't!" the policeman repeated, "They just sit there!" 

Most Sunday's this Rev. Brown feels like a delusional fool expecting "Christians" to actually be following Jesus. "They just sit there."

Hope.... Charter for Compassion

I recall listening to a TED talk by Karen Armstrong in which she talked about a Charter for Compassion. Well I read in the paper that it is happening and I find it exciting. She pointed out that some version of the "Golden Rule" ("Do to others what you would have them do to you.") is a feature of all the main religions. Why can't we have a unifying charter that all religious people can accept and also make it acceptable to those of no religious affiliation? To Karen Armstrong compassion is "not the feeling of good will or pity but the principled determination to put ourselves into the place of another." Here is the charter:

Charter for Compassion

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect.

It is also necessary in both public and private life to refrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community. 

Charter for Compassion is the link where you can personally affirm the charter.

Ian Harris writes a column in the Otago Daily Times which drew my attention to it.

I am hoping to get my Church congregation to adopt it as basic to our Church life. I could be delusional, they might "just sit there". Watch this space. I think it's great! 

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Touching something solid.

That demon drink...

Late in 1969 I had a workmate who had trouble with alcohol. He ended up separated from his beautiful wife, (he had beaten her up three times over a period of time) and his two delightful little boys and in a psychiatric ward. When discharged this 32 year old came to stay with me and my new wife - he had no where else to go. He desperately wanted to be reconciled with his wife but that wasn't going to happen in a hurry. We helped him shift to another place where we felt he could receive more support.   Two days later he committed suicide. After his funeral his "friends" went to a local pub and got pissed. It always seemed weird to me.  Drink had destroyed their mate's life, caused untold heartache and they remembered him by drinking stupidly.

Next Monday I will take a funeral of another 32 year old whose life has been destroyed by drink. There already has been incredible heartbreak and sadness. Probably there will be years of it to come. I hope his mates don't remember him by getting pissed! 

I am not tea-total but I am angry at the mess that drink causes. I talked to a man a few weeks ago who this week moved out from his wife. They are a young couple I married a little over a year ago, and he admitted that his drinking had wrecked their marriage. I talked to a man who has largely sorted his life out but still deeply regrets the deep pain he had caused an earlier partner, the loss of the relationships because of his drinking. I heard of a suicide contributed to by alcohol problems. (It may well be said that such relationships or other problems caused the drinking, but why do we choose to drink, rather than deal with the issues in a more constructive way?) The death of the young man whose funeral I will lead has opened the flood gates of people telling me all sorts of stories of destruction, heartache and woe caused by young people (sons and daughters teens through to late 30's) drinking too much. All these I have had contact with in just the first month of the year! Watch any real life "follow the police around" program and most of the calls are alcohol related. There is violence in homes and on the streets related to drinking. A policeman once told me that something like 88% of their work is drink related. A social worker in the hospital related incredible figures for patients in hospital with either accidents related to drink, or diseases of one sort and another from long term alcohol abuse. I am chaplain to a brewery and the manager gave me his business card. On the back it read "Making our world a more sociable place". I guess we who are involved in the industry (and by being chaplain I am implicated in a sense too) want to feel good about the work we do, but really when you look at the results in our society it is not a very "sociable place" as a result of drink. What is wrong with us if we cannot socialise without getting pissed? Do we lack conversational skills? Do we lack self-esteem? What is wrong with who we are as people in our culture that this is such a problem? Is there a deeper "spiritual" problem where we do not have deep significance or meaning in life? All I know is that there is a major problem causing untold hurt. heartache and destruction.

Digging Foundations

I recall once digging a post hole for the piles of a house. The digging was easy because the ground was loose. We dug what we thought was the required depth and left it. A building inspector checked the holes before we put concrete in. "No" he said, "you must dig further till you reach more solid clay." I suspect that these days, with the demise of "religion" (and I think it has deserved its demise) we in the west do not now dig down and touch solid clay. This is a contributing factor to our troubles. The world and life is always in a state of flux and change. The rate of change is speeding up and few things seem stable in life. Because of this, deep uncertainty settles in our "guts" and our drinking is a sort of medication to help us cope. 

Last Sunday in my Church I talked about encounters with God as "touching that which is eternal". Whether or not we believe in God, or want to participate in religion, I think it is good to dig down and touch that which is eternal in life. An inner understanding that there are values like "Love", "Justice" and "harmony" that are worth living for is a deep direction in life. A deep recognition that each person is of value, that you are of value is another important foundation stone. An awareness that we are linked to each other and the earth is another. These deep truths give a foundation in life, and "feed" our "souls". They empower when the flow of life is against us and they give direction and motivation. In the changes in life, in our world about us and in our circumstances they give an anchor point.  


Stephen R. Covey...  "The key to dealing with the challenges that face us today is the recognition of a principle-centred core within both ourselves and our organisations."

Barack Obama.. ".. a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as people, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."

Marcus Borg...  "God is not "a being," but a non-material layer or level or dimension of reality that permeates everything, and at the same time, is more than everything."


  • Last week's empties.
  • A photo of some of the exposed roots of a big tree on the Mount Cargill track. If the trees need such big roots, if our houses need deep and solid foundations, so do our lives.

A song we sing at church goes:

"May your roots go deep into God's marvelous love..."

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Work that refreshes.

I have Mondays off. It is generally my only day of the week completely free of "work", though often my job still intrudes. Today I worked hard.

I have hedges at the front of my property and a long high hedge down the side. I cut these before lunch. I enjoy the resulting much tidier look to the section, but I hate the job. I get hedge bits in my eyes, in my shoes and sticking to my body. It is annoying to be amongst the hedge, climbing up and down a saw stool to reach the top. 

After lunch I tackled a court yard area that we have. It was overgrown with weeds and a real mess. So I set to and scraped the weeds and plants that were encroaching and cleaned the whole are up. It is a nice area to sit on a warm sunny day. 

After finishing these jobs I changed clothing and jumped on my bike and rode the around 24 k round trip into the city and back home again. It was time to think, evaluate and plan for the week ahead. A barbecue tea finished the day off eating salad from veges in our garden and yogurt, ice cream, bananas and our home grown strawberries. I have an excessively busy and stressful week ahead. Today I worked hard physically, but feel strangely refreshed. The hard work took my mind completely off the work I have to do for a job, though I could in a relaxed way chew the cud on various thoughts and insights. In a weird way I am refreshed and ready for the week ahead.


  • Two seats in the court yard area. 
  • Another angle on the area... with a seldom used swing seat in view.
  • The high hedge that runs down the edge of our property from my neighbour's overgrown paddock side.
  • Our front hedge, cut but still with the clippings to clear.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Old and younger... clash of cultures.

History is full of stories where cultures clash and also of stories of arrogance, one culture disregarding the culture of another. Unfortunately Christian missionaries have often been to blame, where in their arrogance they have treated indigenous culture as if it had nothing to offer. But I have been thinking that you do not have to go overseas or into the past to see examples of such arrogance... it happens between generations in our own society. 

We have an older generation who lived much of their life during the relatively settled 50s, 60's and 70's. (Last century that is) Many of these are struggling in this fast changing world where the technology makes the world so small and keeps changing everything around them. They cannot get used to talking to an Indian, in India on the help desk call centre. They feel that the world has gone "P.C. mad," (i.e. Politically Correct... not computers) They do not understand terms like "facebook", "blog", "Google" and "twitter" and they are suspicious of people who surf the net.  According to these older people, those who indulge in things like "facebook", "blogging", "Google" and "twitter" are wasting their time. (though they themselves may spend hours watching rubbish TV.) They rave on about the days when "we were young" and kids played real games, and a "good smack never did them any harm". They do not see why they have to retrain to keep up with technology, and they are often resistant to change.  They automatically see it as destructive. Often these people are inflexible, nostalgic for the way things were, and arrogant toward younger ones who see the world differently. The younger ones, as far as they are concerned, need to grow up or conform. These older folks do not see the validity in the different world view of post-modern people, it is an aberration that they should grow out of. Often however, these older folks are the more consistent volunteers in any group. Often too it is these folk who, if you are involved in street appeals, you will notice give more generously, while younger ones will keep walking. (It could be that we need eftpos or credit card facilities for younger people?)

Then we have the younger computer literate people. They welcome every new advance in technology. They interact with people throughout the world. They seem to live for the present and often seem self absorbed. These people enjoy change, and will have several career changes in a life time. They will lead more mobile lives than the older ones, and are impatient with the small world-view the older folks seem to have. They will commit to projects, but seldom commit in any long term way to an organisation. They look at the older folks and feel that because of their lack of savy in the modern world they are "past their used by date" and have nothing significant to offer. It feels like they see themselves as really superior to the older ones. They fail to see that it is these earlier generations who have established the infrastructure that has allowed them to build their lives. 

Often in workplaces, churches and clubs these two different groupings just tolerate each other. It feels like they live in two different worlds and each group has an arrogance where they think of the others as having little to offer. I know of organisations that when the young ones begin to have power, the older ones tend to leave, the new world view is difficult for them to cope with. I recall on the last local Habitat for Humanity job, some of the younger ones were asking sustainability questions and "Why do you do it that way?" questions, that older folk found intrusive and arrogant. I know of younger people who are immediately put off organisations where there are all those "grey heads" around. 

Where do I fit? At sixty one years of age, with snow white hair, I guess I fit into the "olds" category, but I don't feel it. I have just jogged 9.5k which many 61 year olds would not attempt. I am not as computer/internet literate as I would like to be, but again, more so than many my age. I still feel young and as if I am still learning and adventuring in life. (Younger folk may look at me and say the opposite... "Silly old coot, likes country music!")  ... I don't know exactly where I fit in. I do often feel like I am in between. I get frustrated with the arrogance of each group. I find many people my age to be old before they should be. They have let themselves stagnate, and have stopped adventuring. But I find many of the younger folk to be incredibly arrogant, inconsistent and lacking patience with my generation of people. On the other hand, the inflexibility of some of my generation frustrates me. One friend I was talking to about life/sustainability/male-female roles type issues, (She would be in the younger group) had a term for me. She said I was a "transition person".  I wish we could all be more tolerant and try to see the world through each other's eyes. 

Today I was encouraged. We have had a younger guy (mid thirties I guess) start coming to church. He helped at the Christmas dinner and has attended church regularly over the last month or so. He is going about the process of improving his life and we are one step on the way. I was talking to him today and I was in a sense apologising that we were generally an "aging" congregation. He replied, "Yes that's what I thought when I first started to come. But then I thought, well hey, what a heap of a lot of life experience there is to learn from." I liked that... it showed wisdom, humility and tolerance. May it flow both ways more often than it does.

Photo: Two little figures that stand on the dashboard of my van. They perhaps symbolise the two subcultures. The troll (he used to have pants on) I purchased in the late 1960s. He used to hang from the rear view mirror of my first car a 1938 Austin 12. He has been in many cars since. The "Star Trek" doll I found on the road during a recent run. If you push a button on her back she says, "Captain, we're being hailed!" Such technology was not available for the cute but silent troll.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

A sad privilege.

I have been asked to lead Tony's funeral, the son of my firefighter friend, Ben. Tony is a 32 year old who has died needlessly in London. 

Nervous yet pleased.

I am nervous about taking it. It is a tragic death and the family are going through every parent's nightmare. I have to try to minister in this most difficult situation, to help them say their goodbyes and through that to assist the grieving process. It is a tall order. I will have to be on top of my game. I am thankful that I have quite a bit of time to give thought to what I will say and how I will say it. At the same time, however, I count it a very special calling to be able to be there and represent the love at the heart of the universe. I am allowed to be there and represent for them God's love. I am respected enough as God's representative in a secular setting to be trusted with this duty. I am, if one can say this about such a tragic situation, pleased to be there with them. It's a privilege. It is a confirmation of my belief that faith should not be locked behind church walls, but in the midst of the community.  

Privileged conversation.

I went to visit the family today. There was Tony's sister, his mum and dad and a little nephew and niece. I had a cuppa with them and they talked about Tony, the service and their feelings. I went there nervous, worried that I might stuff things up. I came away feeling that I had been a useful presence. But I felt I was privileged. These people had let me into their shared grief. For a short time I am allowed to be a part of their family and feel with them. It is a hard job, stretching your nerves and skills, but also a job in which you feel extremely privileged. It's a sacred and special honour to be allowed in at times like this. 

If you're into "prayer" or the mysterious sense of solidarity that prayer brings, remember this family in the next week or so. If you have time, think of me too as I try my best to support them.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Sad today..

I am a bit sad and with it also angry today. This is for two reasons.

A friend's loss.
I can honestly say that as a chaplain to the fire brigade I like all of my fire fighters. I have various levels of contact and relationship, and we all have our rough edges, but I cannot think of any of them I dislike. Having said that there are those you are drawn to more than others. Ben is one of those. I like him because what you see is what you get. He is just Ben, honest, not trying to be anything he is not and he is a keen runner. I feel at ease around Ben. I read in the paper today that Ben's 32 year old son died as a result of a tragic accident in London on Monday. Today I feel sad for Ben. I wish I could take away some of the pain he must be feeling. I feel sad because of his loss. There is also a bit of anger there that life is such that these tragic accidents happen.

It's only money but it seems unfair.
The second reason I feel angry is that we have a foster daughter who to all intents and purposes we treat as one of our own. (It would be easier if we had adopted her but the powers that be would not allow that) She is severely disabled, 32 years of age, in care and receives a disability allowance. We are her "property managers" and Jean carefully looks after what spending money she is allowed. She pays for clothing, bed linen, furniture, doctors visits, meds and toiletries out of this. Jean has been putting some aside into a couple of investment funds. One is to pay for her inevitable funeral, the other for maybe a special holiday for Pania some time. Our "status" as property managers has to be reviewed in court every three years. Jean's book keeping is audited in the process and Pania (who cant speak at all and can only feed herself with a spoon) has to apply to the court for it to be renewed. There has to be two lawyers involved and the legal process costs quite a lot of money. Other times this has meant that the lawyer fills out a legal aid form and applies for legal aid for the costs and previously this has been accepted. (Lawyers' charges are $210 an hour!) This time, because of my wife's careful management of Pania's money and her amassed fortune (Around $5000) we have been turned down for legal aid. Here we are doing a voluntary job looking after this poor woman's affairs, (She did not ask to be disabled) we have to seek the permission of the courts to be allowed to do the job, and she has to pay for it. Criminals I know of, who have not disclosed the where abouts of their ill gotten gains get legal aid by the thousands for appealing their sentences! I am angry about the system. Some how it seems unfair. Either way lawyers laugh all the way to the bank, they have guaranteed income sources.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Summer days at last.

This is not a rant, more a celebration. We have had some very nice days in Dunedin lately. After so many grey days the sun is nice. I have had two barbecues in two days. One tonight in the beaut little peaceful spot that is our back yard. Jean is making plum jam today. We picked plums from one tree, there are two more to go! As I was picking plums there was a pair of wood pigeons working the other side of the tree. I had a good relaxing day off, a nap in the afternoon and a 9.5k jog to make me feel righteous. There's a 7:15 meeting tomorrow morning though and one at night too. February means the year really gets under way this week.