Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Competitive old fool.

I walked up to Swampy Summit and back over Flagstaff again today. Last Sunday afternoon I took just under three hours to do it, but must have used muscles I seldom use because nearly all week parts of me hurt. I did a bike ride yesterday for my Saturday exercise. Today as I headed out on my hike I put my tramping boots on for more comfort, and assured my wife I would take it easy and just amble. "No fast walking for me, just a cruise!" There is something about hills! There is something about junctions in tracks! I am always thinking ahead, looking at my watch and saying to myself, "I reckon I can reach the top, ... or the corner... or the junction by...." I think if I am going to just amble I need to leave my watch at home! I ended up doing the walk 8 minutes faster than last week! I am such a competitive old fool, I compete against myself. Why can't I relax and just enjoy a stroll? Still I think I am getting fitter.

I found this little rock with little pink flowers on the top of Swampy Summit. They grow there in that windswept, cold and isolated spot. I guess we could call it "God's landscaping".

Friday, March 26, 2010

Only if you have to...

I received a CD in the mail today. It is a special CD, because it is recorded by the daughter of an Australian friend of mine, who died about this time last year. On the cover she writes that the CD "is dedicated to the memory of my dad". I knew it was coming and opened the packet and read the details on the cover booklet. To my surprise tears came to my eyes, a lump came in my throat and a tear rolled down my cheek. Later I was in a bit more of a mess listening to the last song which was in memory of her dad, and had a bit of him playing his violin on it! Why was I so easily provoked to tears? I had a 37 year friendship with her dad, but it was a year ago that he died, one would think I would have got used to the harsh reality by now? While riding my bike this afternoon I got to stewing on my tearful reaction and below is my diagnosis.

It is my feeling that the CD and it's impact opened up other wounds just below the surface of my life, wounds that come from the fact that I am a "reluctant" minister/chaplain. My wife reckons that there should never be such a job, that the expectations of a minister make for an impossible job. ( I read a job description written by a church wanting a part time minister during the week. I had to chuckle. I am not sure that even the angel Gabriel could fulfill their idealistic requirements! But they are all like that, a waste of the paper they are written on.) Here are some of the "wounds" below the surface.

* As a chaplain/minister I have had all sorts of reactions that show prejudice and dislike, just because you are a representative of "Christianity".  "Hello, I am Dave Brown the new chaplain." I have said. The response, an abrupt spin on the heals and walk off, or one time that was preceded by, "I couldn't give a stuff!".... or "Tell someone who cares."  In other circumstances, sometimes even a sarcastic "almost-but-not-joking" sort of way, all sorts of weird hurtful comments are made, when a group learns you are a minister. The way ministers are often ridiculed on TV, is often emulated in real life, even though the people do not know you as a person.

*As a minister you invest your "person" into your work. When I was a plumber the success of my work depended on my plumbing skills. These were "external" learned skills that I was good at. If I failed, it was my skill in question, but not "me". As a minister/chaplain you put yourself "out there". Rejection or misunderstanding is not just rejection of your skill or work, but some how rejection of you as a person. Each Sunday as I lead worship I share my faith, I bare my inner soul in front of people. I have to word things so that I don't offend others perspectives too much, but have to try still to be true to myself. The success of my chaplaincy work depends so much on my personality, and if there are difficulties "I" feel the pain.  

*In my denomination with its correct emphasis on the involvement of lay people, unfortunately you have a whole lot of opinions as to how the church should be run, readily expressed. There is little recognition that you have indeed been trained to do a job, everybody's opinion is as good as yours. Sometimes this can verge on being offensive. I have had recently a man, a retired professional, telling me what to do in sometimes cutting words, ways that are designed to belittle my style and hurt. He refuses to listen to a different perspective. Inside I want to hit back, and point out his ignorance and arrogance. I want to yell at him that I have studied for 6 years, and still study to know how to minister. I want to suggest that I perhaps have more theological understanding than he has? Would he like me telling him how to do his profession? But, as a good minister, I must benignly accept the pain, disagree or ignore the advice in a "nice" way.  I try my best to do this, (not just with him) but the barbs still hurt. I have often thought of the way people treat ministers at wedding times. When it comes to appointments to sort out the wedding or rehearsals people are seldom on time. I had one couple turn up three quarters of an hour late for a rehearsal, and did not even apologise! I had other appointments and work to do that night. The thing that irks is that they would not do it when visiting their lawyer, the dentist or the builder! How come it is acceptable with the minister?

* In ministry you take on board the hurts of people. Every funeral is a grief experience for you as you share empathetically with the family. Every broken marriage you are involved in you feel something of their failure. When a member of our drop-in centre ends up in prison, I feel like I let them down. As a chaplain and minister often the hurts and hardships of the people I mix with are felt also by me. I know people say I should be more "detached" and "professional" but that's crap. If you care at all, you end up sharing some of the pain. You have to learn to deal with it, but its one of the wounds.

* In ministry you feel the pain of the world. I am in the job because deep in my "soul" I want to make the world a better place. When I see, read or hear of the distortions in the world at large, I feel the pain. That murder in the news causes an ache in my heart. That young hood sent to prison, I don't see a nasty kid, but a mixed up boy, and a life tragically wasted. Even the "show biz" news hurts, I see the stupid distortion of values that are expressed, and know that hurt lives will result from them. It is this sort of "pain" that gives me fire in the belly, a reason to keep trying to make a difference, but it is still "pain". I understand how Jesus could survey the city of Jerusalem and cry for the people.

* In ministry you work in an institution that often sees itself as being the purpose for your existence and an end in itself. Your ideals can be of the church as a servant community making a difference in the world. Their perspectives are of an institution serving their wants and needs.  You want an ongoing search for relevance, opportunity and service, they want stability, comfort and security. Ministry can be an incredibly frustrating job, you are called to move a very human institution to try to get it to do challenging and divine things.

Yet, even though I have frequently tried, I can't opt out. It is, whether I like it or not, my "calling" ... All of the above are some of the wounds I experience in ministry, and I guess lately they have "backed up" and my tears flowed when the CD arrived because its reminders exposed the yet-to-be-dealt-with hurts that are there. It is also true that my friend who died was one of the few people in my life who could understand the wounds of ministry. 

I know a number of retired ministers who I would gauge as having the effects of post traumatic stress. Somehow the wounds of ministry have caught up with them when they have stopped, and they are still suffering the accumulated stress. One man wrote a book about ministry and called it "The Wounded healer". 

Anyway... I think that's one of the reasons I cried when the beautiful and meaningful CD arrived. Having said all that about ministry, there are deep, powerful, fulfilling rewards in doing what you are called to do. I attended a retirement "do" for a firefighter the other day. As he finished his speech he said, "It's a great job, I would recommend it to anyone interested." I could not say that about ministry. My words would be, "Do it, but do it only if you really have to!" ... and I do.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

A question: Is New Zealand getting smaller?

On Monday I was driving out to Port Chalmers. Ahead of me were two logging trucks laden with big trees, and behind me there was another one. Surrounding me then, were several hundred cubic metres of wood headed off shore for some overseas destination! There are thousands upon thousands of square metres of wood going overseas. Those trees were grown in NZ soil, so the wood consists of nutrients taken out of NZ soil. I also know that there are thousands upon thousands of meat carcasses headed overseas. Those sheep were grazed on NZ paddocks, on grass that grew sucking up nutrients from NZ soil.

My question for any scientific thinkers out there is; Given that with each tree or each sheep carcass there are parts of the New Zealand land mass (i.e. nutrients out of the soil) going off shore, and there are heaps of these things exported every year, year after year, is the total land mass of New Zealand getting smaller? In algebraic terms; If the land mass of New Zealand equals "y" cubic metres. If the soil nutrients in the wood or meat leaving our shores each year equals "a" cubic metres. Then it would be logical to assume that at the end of one year's exporting the equation would look like this.... y - a = x with "x" being the depleted land mass of New Zealand!

Is my country getting smaller? Why or why not? I have asked lots of people this question and have not heard a satisfactory answer. Can anybody tell me? Am I living on a disappearing land mass?

Monday, March 22, 2010

Medal memories

My son Daniel (standing on the left holding sun glasses) put this photo on his "facebook" page today. It is of me and my three sons at Government House in Wellington in 2003. Seeing the photo brought back memories. I received an award in the 2002 New Year honours list and in due course we were invited to go to Government House to receive the medal from the Governor General. It was a bit of a hassle.

Who to take?

I think we were allowed to have a party of four, but we have five childen. I was determined to take my children since they were part of who and what I was, so we wrote and asked if we could have a party of 6, my wife, my three sons and oldest daughter. We left our foster daughter, who has severe handicaps at home. The people running the event replied giving us permission for six so we planned the trip. It was quite expensive. We had to fly to Wellington, find accommodation for two nights and get back home. I recall it stretched our budget a fair bit, but it was a once in a life time thing so we just had to do it.

What to wear?

There was a great wad of instructions about where to go, the format, what to wear and how to behave. These told us that suitable attire for the occasion would be suits for the men. Women were to wear a suitable dress. I had a problem with my family. "A suit!" said one of my sons, "I'm not wearing a bloody suit!" My wife went shopping for her attire and found a very smart pants-suit thingy that looked very nice.... but it was not a dress. My boys discussed their options and as you can see they did not all end up wearing suits. I have a family of rebels.

Fun to be had.

We booked in at a local back-packer place. It was quite a lot of fun, the Brown clan, like the Clampets in Hollywood, hitting the streets of the capital. When the time came we all went back to the accommodation, got suitably showered and dressed up and went to Government house in a taxi. We wandered the grounds for a bit, then I had to leave the family and get briefed and put into the right seat for the investiture. I recall listening to the names being read out and hearing the particulars of their service to the community. I was extremely humbled. I was among people who had given years and years of voluntary service in all sorts of ways. Scientists, people who had served on community committees for decades, athletes who had served their sport for years - as they listed off the names and service I could not help thinking, "What the hell am I doing here? It must be some mistake!" I recall there was a well known rodeo rider and administrator who seemed to hobble up to the platform and everyone had a bit of a chuckle. I was duly presented with the medal and in time the ceremony came to an end. We were hosted to afternoon tea, drinks and sandwiches, in the posh surroundings of Government house. Well my boys enjoyed the outing. They went from room to room, eating sandwiches, checking out the art work on the walls, and having a beer or two. I met a soldier who was part of the staff of the house who when I introduced myself said, "Oh you have some interesting children! I've been talking to them." I immediately thought the worst, but he recounted his pleasant conversations with my boys and commented on how creative they were.

After the afternoon tea, we went back to the backpackers, dressed in some more relaxed clothing and went out to a Little India restaurant for the night. It was the day we got a medal... I was determined to take the kids and my wife, because they had all been a part of whatever I had done to deserve the medal. The day was special, not because of the event or the medal, but because we celebrated together.  

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Lovely exercise

I have had the good fortune of having two days in a row when I was able to do some significant exercise.

Last Monday I bought a tube and did some repairs on my old 12 speed bike, so I was itching to take it out for a spin. It is a different experience to riding my 21speed-$100-Kmart-"mountain bike"-special. Yesterday, Saturday, I took it out for its first ride for some time. I rode from my place in Sawyers Bay around to McAndrew Bay on the other side of the Otago Harbour and back with one or two diversions along the way. I reckon it was about 55k ride. It was great. The bike is so much lighter to push along the road and so responsive. I felt like I was a teenager again, when I used to hop on my bike and go for long rides by myself. I only intended to ride into town, but was enjoying it so much that I carried on. I got a puncture on my way home, but just took the back wheel off, exchanged the tube, pumped it up and carried on, pleased that I did not have to phone my wife. Even that became a fulfilling part of the adventure.

Today I decided that I would do a walk I had been longing to do for a while. I walked from "the Bullring" over the top of Flagstaff, and on to Swampy Summit and back. I did the whole lot inside of three hours, which for a 61 year old is not bad. At one stage a notice board said, "One and a half hours to Swampy Summit". I walked that distance in three quarters of an hour. We are so lucky in Dunedin. Just ten minutes drive from the centre of town and you can be walking in the midst of tussock, scrub and flax with incredible views all around.  It is miles above the worry line, you are in the open with the feeling of adventure and space. It was a great afternoon.

I had an experience on the way in that made me think. The track to Swampy leads up some very steep hills, then down into gullies and so on. I was climbing up a steep track and was about to stop for a rest. I glanced behind and saw a younger guy in tee shirt and shorts gaining on me. You may have gathered that I don't like accepting old age, so my competitive spirit kicked in and I was going to make him work if he was going to pass me. I dug in, chest heaving, walking stick pushing me up and legs pumping. There was no time to stop now. I reached the top of the hill and looked back. I could not see him? "Oh" I thought, "He must be just around that corner." I headed down the hill feeling pleased that I had beaten him to the top, and taking big strides to get as far in front as I could. I reached the bottom of the gully and looked back up the hill. He wasn't there at all! He must have stopped and turned back shortly after I first saw him! There was no need for that burst of speed. I could have ambled up the hill and taken rests, or stopped to take photos. I wasn't being chased at all! I think there are times like that in life. We are "driven" by what we think other people are thinking of us. We think people are judging our performance. We think someone may be critical of us or think we are slack. So we drive ourselves. We feel under pressure. But if truth be told, when we look back there really is no one being critical or judgmental. All we see is the shadow of our own insecurities chasing us. Anyway I had a wee laugh at myself. Stupid old man trying to be competitive??? I enjoyed my afternoon in the tussock, wind and hills.


  1. My old 12 speed
  2. The tower on the horizon from about half an hour in on the track.
  3. The Swampy Summit tower close up.
  4. The return track, part way home.
  5. Below... "All we see is the shadows of our own insecurities."

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Delaying gratification

My wife wants me to go and see the Doctor tomorrow. The reason is that I have had some trouble sleeping over the last week or two. I go off to sleep very quickly but at around 2 a.m. I wake up and my mind goes flat tack. ....It is not all bad because the other night I had an "epiphany".  As I lay there and stewed, my thoughts gathered together and I understood "the world" and directions in  human society in a better way, clarifying and bringing together a lot of my probing and thinking. I think I only got about two hours sleep last night and now for a few nights each week that happens. These days too, if I am lying stewing, I get up, go to the lounge and read a book. I am reading Michael King's "History of New Zealand" and really enjoying it. (Although I read of New Zealand young men in the First World War the other night and I don't think it helped me sleep. I was disgusted at the stupidity of that war! The way it was fought and the way soldiers were just cannon fodder. Good grief! .... life was cheap! At ANZAC day we make it sacred??? It is said we as a nation "came of age" then. Bloody hell!)

I think I know the reason why I have not been sleeping lately. I am, at a deep level, worrying about my new chaplaincy and the extra work that it involves. It has not become yet an easy place for me to float along to. There are still people I need to break the ice with and relationships I need to build. I am not confident at this sort of thing, even though I am good at it. I build relationships slowly, and I think in the case of chaplaincy, that is not a bad thing. People watch how you relate to others, then in their time, let you into their life. Every time I go there I deepen conversations with folk, and break new ice, so it is happening. I just worry about it still. There is the difficult and sensitive "work" involved, but also other parts of my ministry are demanding more time, so I worry about fitting in the hours needed. I do find that come Thursday night, after I have finished at Allied Press for the week, I have a better sleep.

My wife says, "Give it up!" Other people say "give it up!" There is a part of me saying; "If I had my choice I would give up trying to lead on Sunday mornings!" That exercise too, even though I think I am good at it, is a gut wrenching experience. But I think it is wrong to just "Give it up" when the going is tough. Often in life, when you are trying to accomplish anything worth while, or even just grow as a person, there is a period of difficulty where discipline is needed. Even though I worry about the Allied Press chaplaincy, I have a feeling that there will come a time there when I will feel attached to the place and have deep and significant relationships. (Just like the other chaplaincies I have) It just takes discipline and "hanging in there" and it is happening. M Scott-Peck writes about the need for delayed gratification and discipline in the whole personal growth process. We are often called to work through the difficult times, and the rewards come or growth happens. Sometimes we avoid the problem solving necessary for growth to happen, because it takes discipline. When we "give up" or "back off" back into our comfort zones we fail. We cheat ourselves out of possible progress and growth.

My wife made an appointment with the Doctor for me. Will he tell me to give it up? What the heck am I going to say to him? I'll worry about that tonight.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Goodbye Toymotor!

I was "blog browsing" the other night. (I just kept clicking on "next blog" to see what came up) I came across this blog where there was a discussion on whether you could love two people (romantically) at the same time. Various opinions were expressed. Let me tell you about two people I love. One is "Wicked Wanda" my 1990 Nissan Bluebird. The other is "Toymotor" my 1989 diesel Toyota Liteace van. Each has a different personality, but I enjoy both. On the open road "Wanda" and I are in ecstatic union as we sweep around corners, triumph over hills and eat up boring straights with great delight, incredible comfort and few rattles. .. she is lovely. But "Toymotor" is a faithful work horse. We greet each other warmly each morning and embark on our day together. We chug through city traffic, up hills, visit fire stations and do ministry business. With tools and hardware on board we are a team for Habitat for Humanity. At other times we move furniture for people, for the church or for the night shelter. As a working team we are in union, unstoppable and there's a quiet companionship together getting the jobs done. 

Today I cleaned all my "stuff" out of "Toymotor" and she waits at the gate to be taken away and sold for scrap! I am sad and angry. I am angry at Mr Knewstubb, at the State Insurance Company and at NZ's Land Transport Safety Authority. (LTSA) Here's the sad story.

On Wednesday February 17th after lunch, Mr Knewstubb was driving his electrician's van in the suburb of Sawyers Bay. I in "Toymotor" followed him around a round-about and down a street leading toward my house. I was on my way home, to pack and head away on holiday. Mr Knewstubb slowed, so I slowed behind him. His brake lights came on and he tended to drift toward the left side of the road as if he was going to park or was looking for an address on the left. I watched his indicator lights to see if there was any communication as to what he was doing. Nothing came, so I changed gear and pulled out to pass him. Just as I came along side him, to my surprise and horror he turned right, either to do a U turn or to drive into a driveway across the road. I swerved but could not avoid colliding with his van and its bull bars. I was angry, but did not express my feelings, just exchanged information and drove home. I notified my insurance company and went on holiday. Upon returning I got a note from Mr Knewstubb's insurance company saying that I was obviously liable for the accident. I wrote a hasty note expressing my experience of the accident with a copy to both Mr Knewstubb and my insurance company, definitely not accepting liability.

In consultation with State Insurance (my insurer) I went to a panel beater. He looked at poor "Toymotor" from his office and declared it a write off straight away. He went out and took photos, without even opening doors to truly assess the damage. In due course State Insurance informed me they would "Write off" Toymotor" and pay me $1500. (Because I could not prove I was not at fault I would have to pay an excess of $300) "Toymotor" cost me $1800 to buy and was insured for that amount. I have two doors on an old van that I could use to replace the damaged doors. I could get some assistance and panel beat the damaged panel between the damaged doors. So I asked State if I could buy "Toymotor" off them and repair it. "Yes" they said, and gave the price as $500, which would be taken off the $1500. But they would de-register the van. To re-register the van takes a lot of money and because of Land Transport Safety Authority rulings, requires a very rigorous test of the vehicle, that few older vehicles would pass.  This registration process (bureaucratic crap!) makes the repairs a costly and an economically risky option. I asked two questions of State Insurance. Is it possible not to de-register "Toymotor"? Answer "No"... from a survey of the hastily taken photos they claim she is structurally damaged. Second question... "What would happen if I withdrew my claim, received no money from them at all, I could then fix my loved van at my expense?"  The first answer given was that they would still de-register her. "But you can't!" I said, "It is MY van!" After consultation and another phone call I was told that they would still inform the LTSA that my van was written off and "structurally damaged".... more cost, more risk. I am not just being sentimental here. "Toymotor" is economical. She has the versatility and usefulness of a van, but the mobility of a small car. She is sooo good as an around-town-utility-vehicle, and in real terms worth a lot more than $1800 to me and my work. I was not impressed with the State Insurance conversations. To me they seemed inflexible, quoting "the book" at me, and unwilling to listen. I was extremely annoyed. One lady rang and asked me if the road tax had been paid. I replied "Yes it had". "We'll just check that" she responded and went on line to check it while I waited, feeling like she thought I was telling fibs. If you are not going to trust your customers, why ask the question? Why not check it before you phone? Grrr.  I am painted into a corner. Nothing gives me the opening to repair this wee van. The State Insurance company and the LTSA militate against it, so she has to be dumped. If only they could see sense and recognise that she is only written off because of the low insurance cover, and not because of "terminal" damage. If they withdrew the need to re-register, I would fix her up. But no, inflexibility and stupidity reign supreme. I think I will be changing insurance companies. In all the years I have been insuring with State this is my first claim, and just a little bit of flexibility would have been nice. We had to argue to convince them we were due a refund on the road user tax charges! Good grief!

I have for a long time objected to LTSA rulings. The people who make the rules in the LTSA have a vested interest in keeping old cars off the road. They are better off if you are forced to buy newer models. I object because I see lots of low income people getting into foolish debt to buy cars they can't afford. At the same time, still running, good, safe vehicles are being dumped because of overbearing LTSA rules.

Anyway Mr Knewstubb, State Insurance Company and the LTSA have combined to ensure  "Toymotor" dies.  I am angry at them. To you three entities I say, I probably will forgive you some time, but just now, in Christian love of course, in the words of a song, "May the bird of paradise fly up your nose!". You have caused me some great cost, real inconvenience and now limited my work in the community. Thanks for nothing!

Actually it is my fault. My father gave me one or two driving lessons. He died a few weeks later. I don't think my driving contributed to his demise. I remember one bit of advice he gave me about driving. He said, "Drive as if everybody else on the road were idiots!" If I had remembered that before I passed Mr Knewstubb, all of the above would not have happened.

Below: "Toymotor" as I will remember her. A faithful workhorse.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Thinking about rich and poor...

Envy, anger, confusion and questioning.

This week I have been forced to think about rich and poor and the gap between. There have been several ways this whole subject has been pushed into my consciousness. I am confused, as usual. Let me share some of what has happened.

Reading: I have been reading a paper by Andrew Bradstock from Otago University entitled; "A Global Economic Crisis: Too good an opportunity to waste." His argument is that as we look for ways out of the crisis we should be asking questions about the values upon which our economic system is based. He writes; "If our key concern is to ask, what economic arrangements make for genuine human flourishing, I believe we must at least challenge the assumption that all we require of markets is their capacity to increase our ability to earn, spend and consume more." He points out that France is "to include happiness and well-being in its measurements of economic progress." He lists off a number of reasons why we should challenge current economic values and look for new directions. 40 odd years ago John V Taylor wrote similar things in a book called "Enough is Enough" and quoted other writers suggesting different directions. They were rubbished by bean-counters then and whenever I have raised similar questions,(and to be honest I have generally been too fearful to do it often) I have been rubbished. It is like people are saying, "How DARE you question the holy economic growth principles" But increasingly there simply are lots of reasons we need to be looking for more people/value/earth and well-being centred approaches. Jesus is reported to have said, "One does not live by bread alone..." 

That Gap: He also points to the gap between rich and poor being a major problem. "As Wilkinson and Pickett point out in their path-breaking book, The Spirit Level, countries with high levels of inequality (like New Zealand) will imprison a larger proportion of their population, have more obesity, more teenage pregnancies, worse mental health and shorter average life-spans than those countries with much lower levels of income inequality." More equal countries do better on almost all social indices. (This is not new, the prophets in the Old Testament said the same sort of thing.)

Cars: A man showed me his new (secondhand) car the other night. He didn't tell me how much it cost, but by the way he was avoiding it I think it cost a lot. It was a 5.7 litre Holden, all the bells and whistles imaginable, leather seats etc etc. I could not help thinking that my 2.4 litre 20 year old Nissan Bluebird ("Wicked Wanda" by name, photo above) can get up to too fast a speed too easily, what on earth a modern 5.7 litre would do is hard to imagine! He told me all of its flash ingredients, technical data and how fast he had been in it. It was mind blowing, but as I climbed into Wanda (Which cost me $1300) I had to ask myself, "Why? Why the extravagance? The expense? the petrol costs?" Mainly it is because of status and how we look to others. We humans are weird.  Benjamin Franklin said; "It is the eyes of other people that ruin us. If all but myself were blind I should want neither a fine house nor fine furniture." (They didn't have fancy Holden cars then) 

Trips: For several reasons overseas travel has been a topic of conversation. I have a good friend in Paris now. She is traveling to the UK for her work. I was talking with people who have been on various overseas tours, to the UK, to China, to Africa, to various Asian destinations and they were talking hotels, events, adventures and sights seen. On Thursday night I listened to a lady speak about her travels and adventures in what used to be Burma, and the several journeys she had made. Amongst the group attending the night, her presentation sparked lots of travel anecdotes. I have of course, been talking about our planned six week trip later in the year to Poland, Europe and the UK. In one group where people were sharing their stories it hit me quite strongly. One person was sitting listening in silence. Then after a time they got up, said the briefest "goodbye" and left the room. It wasn't till after they had gone that I realised that this person's situation in life meant that probably they would have a snowballs-chance-in-hell of ever doing such tripping around. I wondered if they were filled with envy, sadness or somehow disturbed because of all these "rich" people telling of adventures that were inaccessible to them. (Not that I'm rich... I will be truly stretching the budget to get there!) The aforementioned inequality was evident!

Friday night drop-in: You may know that I spend Friday night's at our drop-in centre. As I played pool, table tennis and talked with people I was very aware of the poverty all around me. One man received some spare clothing we had. Another family we gave some basic food to. Most of these people have been spat out the back of our systems. The education system or the health system or the job market has let them down. Mostly this has happened because these systems are governed by the values expressed by our economic system, placing little value on these people's well-being. Other goals govern the spending. One guy came up to me and said he was looking forward to the weekend. I asked "Why?" "I am going to Waihola tomorrow!" he said excitedly. Waihola is a small, muddy, weed infested lake about 40 kilometres inland from Dunedin. To him this was a big adventure. To most at our drop-in a trip out of town is a real treat. I felt like I was part of a spoiled elite even contemplating a big overseas expedition. Someone has said that "The true measure of the health of any society is how it treats it's weakest members." 

But... I would still love the latest Mac pro lap top... an I phone would be good... and my old van is being written off by an insurance company, a nice replacement would be good. ... You see when it comes to wealth, riches and poverty, I struggle for answers. Life's a journey and often there are not black and white answers. Frequently the truth lies in journeying "in tension", keeping in mind a whole lot of perspectives, values and realities, and picking a path between them.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


I am just home from an exhausting day, and I thought I would give any regular readers some notes by way of an update on things I have mentioned before.

My friend's bike

Last year I put a post in mentioning that "there are bastards in the world". The reason I was so angry was that I had a friend in Adelaide who died and shortly after his death an antique motorbike that he had restored was stolen. It is a 1912 Triumph. This bike is really an heirloom and a very special tribute to my friend. It is not just a vintage bike, but a memorial to him and his passion for life. Well I have to report that the bike has been found and is back in the hands of its rightful owners.

His widow is a gutsy lady and would not take the loss lying down. She kept advertising for any information and just when she thought she had wasted money, someone responded and told her where it was to be found. It had been thrown down a drain and is the worse for wear from lying there for about 6 months. It must have been too hot for the thief to handle! I am so pleased for her and the family. I guess in the light of all the world's disasters it is not a massive thing, but it was hard and unfair for her and her family....and his friends because I felt linked to that bike as well. It is back and will be lovingly restored to the pristine condition he had it in.

Space2b & Church

I have from time to time talked about Space2B at our church. We have opened the Church up for people to drop by at lunch times. We started this venture nearly a year ago.  As part of Space2B we have on Wednesdays "Settlementresource@Space2B" where we have resources for new settlers to NZ. The whole concept is growing. We have a bi weekly conversation group in the evenings where issues are talked about. ... last week it was the Charter for Compassion and an earth centred spirituality. There are regular people who call in for a chat and support. Today we had the local City Council settlement person run a new immigrant tour from Space2B. New settlers came and various representatives from agencies addressed them and told them about their services. After that they went on a tour of the city. My dream of the church being a place open to the community, resourcing the community and spreading acceptance in the community is happening. As I watched people sharing today I could not help but think.... "It is happening. A new style of Church with a new and relevant mission is being born."

Tonight we had a "fellowship dinner" at the church. I went along a bit grudgingly. But I looked around the room and I counted quite a number of people who were "new faces", who had found our church an OK place to hang around. They bring a more relaxed approach to church life without some of the baggage of generations before them. It IS changing... slowly... but changing.

Allied Press Chaplaincy

I have mentioned my difficulties and insecurities at starting a new chaplaincy. Well I went there today and I am discovering with each visit a easier "feel" to the place and more and more people I connect with. I am thankful that there are folks who are letting me into their lives, talking about their interests, their jobs and their lives. They welcome me when I turn up. It IS getting easier.

I go to bed tonight, tired, feeling somewhat drained, but with a feeling that I am on the right path after all. Just an update for any who are regular readers of these musings.

Monday, March 8, 2010


Last year I lost my fitness levels. I had hamstring hassles and toward the end of the year, knee problems. It is a pain getting older. This year I have been trying to regain fitness, nursing myself through a variety of exercises. It still has been a bit hit and miss. I have run... slowly and painfully at first. I have walked up hills. I have biked. Often I would run and get around a slow 9k, thinking that my knee was not hurting, but later that night it would start to hurt. But I have kept trying to make time for about three bike/runs/or walks a week. I had been a bit depressed though with the constant hurting, and was thinking that my running days were over. I definitely thought my running-freely-feeling-good days were over. (I have actually been heard to say when running freely once, "This is just about as good as sex!") 

Last night with a good friend, I ran the 9 k circuit. About half way through I put on a burst of speed (old men need a toilet stop so I ran ahead) and right at the end I picked up the pace for the last little bit. I felt good! It was still a relatively slow blast of "speed", but it felt good! My lungs were coping, my heart was pumping and my legs worked well.....And in spite of stretching out a bit, last night my knee didn't hurt! ... I finished thinking, "I may get to do yet another half-marathon!" I am going to the UK later in the year, I would love to do one there! 

The point of this burble is that I have been nursing my self through exercise. A walk.. a run... woops, hurting... better bike...another run... a walk...some rest days...a bike ride... etc. and slowly, ever so slowly even fat old 61 year old Davy Brown is getting fitter... its happening and it will happen!

I have learned a lot of things as I grow older.... but one thing I am learning is that "stickability" counts for a lot. When you can't see the end, when you are unsure of a result... just keep working at it and it will happen.

When we started Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin we started building a house with $2000 in the bank. We would work on the house Saturday mornings, and often be selling plants, raffle tickets or something else to raise money in the afternoon. Our treasurer was killed in a plane crash. There was for a long time about a maximum of four people going up on site each weekend. It took us two years to build the house. ... now this last year we have built our thirteenth house in Dunedin, we sometimes had 40 on site and we finished the biggest house yet in six months. We stuck at the task though it seemed hopeless, there were incredible bridges to build and lots of disappointments, but Habitat in Dunedin is a working, functioning, healthy affiliate now.... stickability.

A group of us met over lunch a few years back to discuss the needs of homeless people. Each of us in our work encountered them. We planned to work toward a night shelter for Dunedin. So we did. There were arguments. There were resignations and one of our best committee members committed suicide (nothing to do with the committee) but we now, years later have a functioning night shelter. ......Stickability!

We started a Friday night drop-in centre at the church about 15 years ago. We had a few turn up. On a busy night we had ten through. They appreciated it, but it was a long night. What were we doing? Why were we doing it? Then numbers built up. We have had as many as 70 through on a Friday night. We would now average around 40 through each Friday evening and we have opportunity to reach out and offer support to about 100 people on a regular basis.

I have been at this church for over 21 years. It has been a long journey with heaps of disappointments. I have been searching for a relevant expression of the church that I could live with. I have tried to give up several times, but failed each time. It is finally starting to happen. A vision has evolved, and is evolving and slowly it is taking shape. The old is passing and the new is emerging.  We have a long way to go, but things seem to be coming together bit by bit. It is more and more becoming a place open and relevant to the Dunedin community.  ...Stickability.

I recall starting chaplaincy. Very scary. Very early on a guy at a fire station told me to "Take my bloody Christianity and f*#k off up to Wellington and sort those bastards out!". Some others just would not talk with me. 16 years later I am an important part of the furniture. Starting at St John, I did not feel "at home" for years! I nearly told the boss to get someone else a few times. But now it is working. I need to keep remembering that as I try to make headway at the Allied Press chaplaincy. ......Stickability.... it will happen... it will happen... hang in there. 

If I have any words of wisdom to pass on to younger people, this would be it. Stickability... what ever your goals, whatever your field, hang in there and you will be surprised what will emerge. Too easily we give up.

Photo: A photo taken by my running friend Jane . It is of the track on Flagstaff Hill above Dunedin. She gave me the photo to hang on my office wall. I like it because it reminds me that life is a journey. The words of a song go with the theme of this post... "The road is long with many a winding turn...." .... Today I am saying "stickability" is of utmost importance in the journey of life.

Friday, March 5, 2010

I love my kids

When we went to Kaiteriteri to take my son's wedding, we had all but one of my children and their partners together. The one we did not manage to take was Pania, our foster-daughter who has severe intellectual disabilities. (But is loved by all the family just as much) We hired a house and spent a couple of nights together... the groom was not there for Saturday night of course. It was just nice to be around these people, they are good people. Let me introduce my kids.

Angela and her husband, David. (top photo)

Angela is the oldest of the children and actually keeps a loving motherly eye on them all. If she hears that one of her siblings is in trouble or needs help she is on the phone to check it out. They too will call her and talk through their issues. Angela has heaps of skills. She has a BA in psychology (I think) an MA in Education..a post grad diploma... a law degree.. has done various other theology papers and studies. She works as an administrator with the Dominican sisters, and though she is protestant, they are very accepting, inclusive and caring of her. (Because of her links they have been very supportive of our Church work, often giving donations of money or excess furniture our way.) Angela in turn, loves them and goes "above and beyond" in her work for them. Angela has a passion for people, for justice and for the environment. She, like her father, is often restless and frustrated with the way things are. She, like her father, has a love-hate relationship with the church. If you are on the wrong side of an argument with her you have to know your stuff.  Angela and David have shown that if you have them as your friends, you have a couple who will "have your back" in the journey through life. They support so many people through rough times. 

Phillip and Natasha -just married. (second photo)

Phil was a delightful little boy. He just soaked in life about him, enjoying exploring, questioning and tasting. I recall seeing Phil walking through a paddock of grass singing at the top of his voice as he headed for some bush, where his imagination could run free. I remember Phil coming in from playing cricket with Daniel his brother. He said, "Gee Daniel's good. He's better than me at batting." ... which may or may not be true.. but I appreciated that this boy had the grace to appreciate the skills of his younger brother in a game. It was Phil who when we were away one weekend, decided that he would grab my tools, nails and the timber he had scavenged from the local rubbish tip and construct a skateboard "half pipe" in the middle of our back lawn. When I came home I did not know whether to be mad or proud! We had great trouble convincing his tech drawing teacher that he had used his tech drawing skills to design the frame work, the angles and the curve of the "half pipe". Phil studied fashion and design and went on to make and sell clothing. He then did a BA, (which I would love to wave in his doubting teachers' faces... Grr... often our education system sucks for creative boys) has worked at Tepapa Museum preparing exhibits, and is currently studying for a Diploma in Construction Technology. He is very clever with art work. His exercise books were covered with "doodles" of the most detailed drawings and from time to time he comes out with creative cards or cartoons with biro pen drawings that tell a story and communicate a feeling. He enjoys tramping, is getting into vege gardening and has heaps of vinyl records. He has many of my traits, which is sometimes good.

Daniel and Magda (third photo)

Daniel was obviously an adopted son. We decided to adopt a "special needs" child and it turned out that mixed race babies were considered "special needs" and hard to adopt out. In interviews prior to adoption we were challenged often about whether we would be accepting of a "different" child. Let me relate a story. When he was 18 months old he over heated and had a fit, rolling on the floor uncontrollably, eyes rolling back and limbs flying everywhere. We took him to the hospital and were in front of a nurse who was filling out forms and asking heaps of questions. I had Daniel, a very dark Maori/Samoan baby on my knee. She asked if there was epilepsy in his family. Without thinking I began to answer the question. "No in my family I didn't know of any... in Jean's family..." As the nurse looked at me strangely, I suddenly realised that our physical heritage was irrelevant, but realised too that as far as my heart was concerned, he belonged to me just as much as my "natural born" children. It continues to be that way, and I love him dearly. Daniel is very clever and talented in many ways. He can, if he wants to play beautiful classical guitar. He has had a time when he was a skilled DJ. He built this desktop computer I use, exploring, researching and learning the skills by himself. He began his working life as a baker. Has worked for Cadbury chocolate factory. Has worked as a mail sorter. He seems to be able to pick up jobs, and is appreciated for his ability to learn and his diligence at the task. He has a really nice caring nature, that has been shaped by all the ups and downs of having to work out his identity as an adopted Maori child in a Pakeha family.  He went on a big OE and came home bringing Magda into our lives. Magda is a delightful daughter-in-law from Poland and Daniel is showing his talents once again, by attempting to learn polish. Now when she "skypes" with her family he can understand parts of the conversation. During the wedding weekend the electric windows in my car played up. Daniel and I became a companionable team, pulling the doors apart and fixing them.

Simon and Monique (bottom photo)

Simon is another "special needs" adoption. Simon has always been full on in anything he tackles. All my boys were better than average at sports, but Simon has great hand-eye coordination. He played basket ball, cricket, rugby league and any other sport he got talked into. In some respects he was too friendly and too "laid back" to be a real competitor as a sportsman, but he had the skills. I coached school boy cricket for 7 years and I recall parents coming to me in awe of Simon. They appreciated his sporting skill, but commented most on what a great sportsman he was, encouraging all the players, being friendly to all and saying, "I wish more kids with such skills could be like that!" Simon is not a big guy, but is very wiry. I watched him playing rugby league against some very big guys. These guys would have the ball and come rushing at Simon, quite confident that they could get past this wee guy. Simon had the knack of timing his tackle right, wrapping his arms around their legs and the "mighty" would tumble. Si would leap to his feat, give his opponent a friendly pat on the back and move on. Simon studied the hospitality industry and has worked in hotels, restaurants and cafes. His friendly nature and ready smile make him an expert in this field. Currently his job involves roasting coffee (he "knows" coffee) and working in a cafe. He has a great sense of humour, a warm smile and a lovely laid back but caring nature. When ever Simon and I get together we generally wrestle each other at some stage. I have been able to use my superior weight to push him around, but this last weekend I noticed he is VERY strong, and he knew it... he said with a grin, "That doesn't work anymore!" as he shoved me around.

I have talked about Pania in other posts, she too is a much loved part of our family. 

On the wedding weekend, as I sat in this house relaxing with my kids, (they supplied the beer which we drank in moderation... I hasten to add... their expectations exceeded our consumption) listening to their conversation, watching them relating to their partners and sharing their company, I could not help but think, "I am a lucky man! I love my kids!"