Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, May 31, 2010

Tuesday morning tales....

I had a sleepless few hours in the early stages of this morning so I got up and did some work in my study. I can feel justified in taking a few moments to blog.

Enjoy them too...

Thinking of my last post. I mentioned that I saw it as my calling to be friends with those on the bottom of the heap, who may never change their destructive lifestyle. I just wanted to add one thing to that. That it it is important, I believe, to enjoy those people. Sometimes we have the idea that Christian mission is all intensely feeling for and seeking to bring new directions to people. What often happens is that we see people as "cases", that we need to exercise our religious duty upon. In some sort of sick way we are abusing those people. We are just using them to make ourselves feel good about ourselves. I believe it is important to see people as people, each with a personality and a journey. I believe it is important just to "be" with these people and allow them to "be". To enjoy who they are. I play table tennis, I chat and I joke. The Desiderata has these rather quaint words.... "Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence. As far as possible without surrender be on good terms with all persons. Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant, they too have their story. Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit." While I might not want to call my friends "dull and ignorant", I do know that each has their story, their likes and dislikes, their learnings and I can find pleasure in just enjoying who they are. By allowing myself this pleasure I affirm them. I often find myself at 6p.m. on a Friday night exhausted after a busy day, not feeling like carrying on with the Drop-in centre at 6:30p.m. Then as I welcome each one and start to interact I come alive and enjoy the night.

Good bye boss..

I read the death notices every morning. (Not just to check if I am still alive!) This morning I noticed a death of a man in his 90's, I am sure he was my foreman when I started work as a plumbing apprentice. I appreciated him, he was a good man. When he met me he said, "You're Gus's boy? Your father was a good plumber, a good soldier and a good man. An all round good bugger." He knew my father when they were plumbing apprentices together and when they were serving overseas in WW2. (Dad was dead by this time) I worked for nearly three years on a big building site, there were 30- 40 plumbers and sheet metal workers and Bill was in charge of them. Bill was a short man, but had a commanding presence. He was polite but could talk straight when it was needed. We always knew when rain was coming, because Bill would start to limp.

New apprentices always had to put up with practical jokes. They were sent to the store for "left-handed screw drivers" "Come custard tarts" and "long waits". They were often set up for various practical jokes and it was important that you could take and give with good humour. But there were sometimes "initiations" that went beyond a joke. I saw an electrical contemporary who ended up stripped of his clothing, tied hand and foot and had pipe jointing goo in his hair and around his genitals and was crying on the floor of the electricians' workshop while his work "mates" stood around laughing. When I saw that I was horrified, particularly when some of the plumbers started saying that it was time they did it to their new boy. The day came when I was working in the workshop and three plumbers (on loan from Australia) came into the workshop with a glint in their eye. It was toward the end of the day and they had decided it was time to initiate the new "boy". They had the exits covered and were coming toward me. Terrified at what they intended to do, I grabbed a pair of big pipe tongs and said, "You will have to fight me to do it!" (I was very fit and quite strong in those days) As they came toward me and I readied myself to hit the first guy that attempted anything, ( and hit him hard because I knew I would probably only get one good shot) Bill entered the room, walked past them, and stood beside me with a tool in his hand, "And you'll have to fight me too! There will be none of that in this workshop!"

I would bike to work every morning and was most often a couple of minutes late. Bill called me into his office and said, "You are late and I have to dock you. I know, however, that you probably still start working before anybody else, so I will only dock your pays on Friday if you continue to be late. Try not to be, but that's the deal if you are." He was a very fair boss.

I recall after that job he was promoted to supervisor based at the office. A year or so later I was working at another site and he came to pick a plumber up to take him to a job. He saw me working, came in with the local foreman and said, "How are you doing Brownie?" I replied and we talked briefly. As he left I heard him say to the foreman, "Can I have Brownie and you can keep ........? He's a good bugger." Well Bill, you were a "good bugger" too. Good-bye boss.

I often think about people like Bill. He was wise, fair, hard working, sensitive, responsible and caring. He lived his life as a good responsible citizen, touching the lives of many people. I got a medal from the Governor General for things I do, but there are hundreds of "Bills" who live good lives, without whom life would be bleak indeed, but who never get the recognition they deserve.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Why do it?

Most often when I blog I am talking to myself, convincing myself of the values I hold. This is true of this post.

As I related to Joan Butcher at our drop-in centre on Friday night I could not help wondering, "Why are we doing this?" You see I do not expect that Joan will change her destructive way of life. I think over the next year or so we will see Joan continue to drink stupidly, sleep out, addle her mind even more, go downhill health wise and eventually be found dead somewhere. On Friday night as I put my arm around Joan to try to listen to her drunken mumbling, I discovered she was absolutely soaked. She was very hungry and cold. In some ways it is her own stupid fault! Why should I care? I could list off a number of people that we have contact with through our drop-in who will go in a similar way. I have known Terry for over 20 years. He was an alcoholic, gambling addict and hoarder when I first met him and he still is today. I have helped him move house several times. We have a funny sort of friendship but he is, I suspect, never going to change and his lifestyle is slowly taking its toll on his body. There is another named Dave who is getting close to the end of his journey. There are a few that I have seen change and we may be able to say we had a little bit to do with their growth and progress, but most go from crisis to crisis until they eventually die. Why waste time and effort on them?

I got to thinking about Mother Teresa and her movement. They would pick dying patients off the streets of Calcutta, take them to somewhere more comfortable and nurse them until they died. Her rationale was that they were to her, "Christ" and she was giving them love. It did not change their predicament, they still died, but they were treated with love in their dying. That's what I am doing with the Joans, Terrys and Daves of this world. I am trying to treat them with respect, empathy, friendship and love as they travel their journey. They of course have other friends who treat them with love, but I see it as my task to be there as a supportive "brotherly" presence, representing as best I am able, God's loving presence to them as they cope with life. It is my call to see them as God's children, my brothers and sisters and to try my best to treat them in that way. This does not mean I give them anything they ask for. They know my disappointment with their choices, and also that I am not a soft touch for drink or drug money. I am, by now, fairly street-wise and know the angles they will try. Most now have given up trying to con me. But may I never stop being their friend.

That's what I have been stewing on over the last day or so, and those are the things I am reminding myself of.

More from my graffiti board poster..

"It will be a great day when our schools get all the money they need,
and the air force has to run a cake stall to buy a plane."

"Don't hesitate to ask dumb questions,
they are easier to handle than dumb mistakes."

"Worry is like a rocking horse,
you go backwards and forwards
but it gets you nowhere."

Friday, May 28, 2010

A warm event on a cold night.

We run a drop-in centre on Friday nights at our church. A great variety of people come to it, people play pool, table tennis, drink coffee, watch TV or generally talk and catch up on each other. It was a cold rainy Friday night last night.

A reasonably regular guest at our drop-in is Joan. She is well known in Dunedin, often drunk, has deteriorating health, sometimes smells terribly and is often looked down upon and scoffed at by people. Joan, however, has a beautiful "spirit" and I feel sad about the distorted and deteriorating life she has. Joan's clothing was pretty wet and she was a little bit intoxicated when she came so I made her some sandwiches because by that time all the food was eaten.

I then found myself playing table tennis with a little girl who comes with her mum and grandparents. Her name is Summer. She is an attractive little girl about 7 years of age. Some times she is annoyingly noisy, at other times she is so cute. I was surprised at how well she returned the ball and we were playing quite long rallies as we hit the ball backward and forward over the net. Joan had finished her sandwiches and came along to sit watching us play, with her plastic bags full of "who knows what". At one stage Summer went over near Joan to retrieve the ball. As she straightened up she looked at Joan and said, "Hello how are you?" Then she followed that with "Have you got any of your paintings? You are good at painting aren't you?" Joan dug in her bag and said, "I don't know." As she pulled things out of her bag some wool came out with knitting on it. "Oh do you knit too?" said Summer, "You are so clever!" "Yes" Joan mumbled, "and I crochet too." With that she pulled out of her bag a crochet head band she had made. Summer and I looked at it, and Summer was so cute as she complimented Joan on her work and skill.

I could not help being moved by this little girl. She had none of the barriers that we adults often have. She looked past the drunken, mumbling exterior to the person inside and she complimented that person. My guess is that Joan gets few compliments. As I talked with her later, it seemed that she only has to walk into a shop and they threaten to call the police. But this little girl, who sometimes is so annoying, could see and appreciate the beauty in Joan. It was a lesson for me.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Concern for others...

There was a lady on TV expressing her mind on twitter, facebook and blogging. She described it as "Verbal vomit". .... Thinking about that... I take a turn at presenting "Radio Church" at a local community radio station every few weeks. I once asked the sound tech person if they knew how many people actually tune into the radio church. He told me a guess at a figure but then said this, "It is not really important how many people listen. For a community radio station it is more important that you are presenting a radio church service." Well its a bit like that with my blog. It's important that I blog... journal... sort of. The numbers of people reading it don't matter that much. It is important to me to reflect on life through this medium. So here is one more lot of my "Verbal Vomit". ... sorry.

I thought I'd share with you two more of the quotes from my Graffiti board poster, and some burbling to go with them.

Human beings are like parts of a body
created of the same essence.
When one part is hurt and in pain,
the others cannot remain in peace and quiet.
If the misery of others leaves you indifferent and with no feelings of sorrow
You cannot be called a human being!
- Dag Hammarskjold

On Tuesday evening we watched the documentary "Black Gold". It is about the coffee market and how it impacts on coffee farmers. In short it showed that the producers of coffee were getting very little of the money made out of the coffee beans they sell. There were about six "middlemen" who were all making a substantial profit, while the coffee farmers were not getting enough for a decent standard of living. Some were transferring to growing drugs so that they can feed, house, cloth and educate their children in some sort of basic way. It showed a cooperative working together to cut out some of the middlemen and earn more profit for the farmers and for community development. I became more convinced that because of the suffering of these farmers and their families, we need to take "Fair Trade" issues much more seriously. I am hoping to increase our awareness of this through my Church. In this small world we should not turn a blind eye to human suffering, if we can help in some way.

Achievement of ultimate worth
is loving self-expenditure
not selfish accumulation.

This really is walking to the beat of a different drum compared to the generally accepted values in our society today! It is similar to what Jesus said.... "If you save your life you lose it. If you lose your life, you find it." and other teachings that have a similar message. During the last two days I have spent a tremendous amount of time listening to people. Yesterday, I hung around for a pot luck lunch at our Settlement Resource at Space2B. I knew I should have been working, as in doing some preparation or going to a chaplaincy, but it seemed "right" to stay and converse with people. Today I did at least six hours of on-my-feet, listening, reaching out to people chaplaincy. I am exhausted but as I head toward bed tonight I feel like I have done something significant. As I listen to people or connect with people something significant happens. Giving, self-expenditure, empathetically touching another's life gives oneself a deep sense of meaning and significance. Somehow "God" happens in the interaction. It is a tiring past time, but ultimately worthwhile. I find often that when I am depressed the surest way to get me "out of myself" is to discipline myself to give myself to others. It changes things. When I am dying and I can look back on a life in which I have "given" more than I have taken, a life that has made a contribution to the fulfilment and happiness of the lives of others and not just used people, I will go to my grave (or up in smoke) a reasonably contented man. I fall a way short of the ideal. ... but on my better days I try to live out the directions in this song.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010


Yesterday I had planned to diagnose car troubles, goat proof fences, dig yams and go for a run. The weather put an end to these plans. Instead I did some sorting out in my study at home. I found an old poster I prepared perhaps 25 years ago. It was a sort of graffiti board on which I had written quotes that were meaningful to me and expressed my values. Some had faded and were unreadable but before I threw it out I made sure I had the quotes. I will share a few with you in the next few posts.

If a man does not keep pace with his companions
perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer.
Let him step to the music he hears
however measured or far away.
- Henry David Thoreau

After an evening service in my first ministry, a friend, a lady I knew very well came up to me and quoted that at me. She said that I walked to the beat of a different drummer. She commented that I would probably find life difficult because of that, but "keep it up".

Solitude enables you to make contact with yourself
not to repeat like a parrot a few acquired formulas,
but to be the prophet of God within you
who speaks a unique language to each man.(person)
- Antonin Sertilonges

This is why I like to run or walk alone fairly regularly. While I am walking in the bush or jogging down the street I am getting in touch with my inner values. I can finish a walk or run physically stuffed, but inwardly fired up. I love too getting into a book by a good, original thinker. The author's thoughts and words are like a spring board to my own. I will often read madly then scribble madly as I assimilate and work out the implications of what I am reading. It is embarrassing sometimes. While I am walking in the bush I sometimes find myself speaking my thoughts out loud. I turn the corner and find a fellow walker coming the other way looking at me strangely. That happened on Saturday. I was walking, thinking and stewing and talking to myself, and this delightful Maori lady appeared on the other side of a patch of mud. She at first looked horrified, I guess wondering what sort of person she had encountered. After a brief chat she relaxed, but probably still walked on wondering. People keep telling me that I need to be talking to people to get the support I need for my work. While I appreciate the support of people and friends, to be honest I find the best support comes when I have time to talk to and listen to myself. (or is it the God within?) Solitude empowers.

Photo: Silverpeaks bush path. Reminded me of a song. I love Pete Seegar singing... he loves his music and is so natural and genuine as a person. What you see is what you get.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

The week that was.

I have had a very busy week with lots of "interesting" stuff. On Monday I learned of Terry's suicide. That feeling of sadness coloured all of the week. I had activities on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday and Friday evenings. I had a radio service to record on Thursday, my normal Sunday service and service at an elderly persons' rest home. I had extra meetings slotted into my week as well as normal stuff. I also ended up chairing the night shelter meeting.... the normal chairman was ill.
Terry's friends
During the week I met some of Terry's friends, those from the Waitati community and others. He had been given support and lots of offers of assistance in the last week of his life. Again I ask "Why? Why did you do it Terry?" I was moved by the friendships he had, but also sad that it wasn't enough. One of the special moments was when Terry's mum came up to me after the funeral thanking me for my part in the funeral and my involvement with Terry. I was touched with her openness and her dignity.
Conversation Group
We have a "Conversation Group" and on Wednesday night I felt a certain freedom and companionship as we talked about "God". I could be a heretic and no one minded.
My latest chaplaincy
I was really pleased at my latest chaplaincy. People are greeting me warmly. They are starting to poke fun at me. Some chatted to me about just "stuff". I felt "at home". I will walk there with a much more positive feel. "It" is happening, I am getting "in" slowly.
Drop in Centre
We took a few of our drop in members out to Terry's funeral. (Waitati is about 17 K north of Dunedin.) When we opened the drop-in centre on Friday night we welcomed people and had to tell some about Terry. We passed around a card for Terry's family that people signed. There was a quiet warmth toward each other. It felt like we were a family together recognising that we were precious to one another. It was special.
A nice walk
On Saturday morning I walked the hour into the old Green Hut site in the Silver Peaks, turned into the bush and found the hut that Terry had built. I sat and had lunch there and walked out. The sun was shining. I loved the birdsong, the bush and the expansive views of rugged country side when there were clearings. On one of the frame timbers in the hut one boy named Zac, who said he was ten years old had written some things in pencil. In spite of some terrible spelling, he had one nice sentence. "This world is awesome!" I hope Zac still feels this way, because it is true.

Lucky man
As I look back on this week's activities, its conversations, friendships and challenges I decided that I am a lucky man. I have such variety, I have friendship and I have challenges enough to keep me going.

  • The castle that Terry built. ("Egmont Castle") Terry was known locally as the "Earl of Egmont."
  • The country side I was walking through on Saturday.
  • My morning tea at Terry's hut. (When I got home my wife informed me it was my lunch!)

Friday, May 21, 2010

My friend Terry...

Today we celebrated Terry's wild, weird, free, and troubled life. A very different funeral with the Waitati Malitia escorting him. ( weird bunch of fun "soldiers") Lots of stories told. Thought you might like to see a photo of him and the castle he built. He's still a "stupid bugger" for making the choice he did. Lots of people loved him... the community hall was full.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Professional "distance"... yeah right.

In my training to be a minister they talked about boundaries. One man told us not to make friends in the congregation. That there is a certain "professional distance" to be maintained. When I did some social work training such messages were repeated. As I have worked in chaplaincy various trainers and bosses have repeated this "boundary" message. One boss I had wanted to move me from being chaplain at the fire stations after 5 years because, in his view, I was now too "friendly" with the firefighters. His ideas were quickly squashed when he talked with the fire chief and union rep.

I recognise that there are boundaries. There are somethings that I don't encourage. I have often been invited to go running or training regularly with the firefighters, but I have steered clear of that. I have not assumed that I could front up uninvited at work's social functions at the chaplaincy places. But I think it is impossible and indeed not desirable to have no real personal investment in the people that you minister to. Perhaps I feel too much.

Today I have not been able to concentrate as well as I should because of my feeling of attachment to Terry who committed suicide. I was doing OK until the night shelter coordinator rang up and began to tell me that Terry had been difficult for the supervisor to handle and the tone of her voice suggested she was critical of my decision to send him there on Friday week ago. I listened for a while as she made her allegations, but then interrupted and said quietly, in a deliberately measured tone, but with a degree of bitterness, "Well you don't need to worry. He will not annoy you guys anymore. Terry shot himself on Saturday!" It was then that I realised how much I was hurting. Terry was my friend. I am sure he was agitated, but she was talking about this man who will no longer be there on Friday nights. There will be no more big loving grin. No more excited stories about his projects. No more tales of tramping trips, of rock walls built and fights with bureaucracy. No more pool games with his sly shots. No more table tennis matches and no sense of having Terry at the drop-in as one more person watching my back. This lady was treating him as a "case" and a bad boy "case" at that. "Well bugger you!" I was saying under my breath.

I took hold of myself and when she got herself together we talked in sane sensible, non-aggressive terms about the report that was written. We discussed the meeting tomorrow night when it will be talked about and I was a good, rational, "wise" Night Shelter Trust Board member. But after I hung up I just felt sooo emotionally wrung out. I did not want to go and do chaplaincy. I just wanted to not be where I had to put myself "out there".

I grieve at the death of Church members. I, hopefully take their funeral in a professional way, but I grieve. I ache for people going through tough times as if they were my children, or brothers and sisters. I don't know about "professional distance" and "boundaries" but that's who I am and that's the way I do my job.

Then I see Jesus crying over the city of Jerusalem. "Now Jesus, if you're going to be professional about being a messiah you better watch your boundaries!" After that phone call I just wanted to go home.... but I didn't.... May be that discipline is being professional.

I grieve for Terry for two reasons. I have known him for something like 15 years, I really liked the guy, we had a lot of common interests so I will miss him as a person. But secondly I grieve because I know that for every troubled Terry who actually commits suicide, there are many others who in their lifestyle, their lack of hope and their sense of isolation slowly kill themselves or live a living death. e.g. There is Dave, who I have known for around 20 years, now nearly bedridden and definitely on the way "out" without really having lived. Once a talented young musician and singer he has smoked, boozed and drugged his way into oblivion. When I grieve for Terry, I feel the pain and loss of his still living mates. (Though Terry was a shining light amongst them)

Right or wrong I felt emotionally drained today and was a bit "inefficient".

Monday, May 17, 2010

I MUST blog...

I am sorry my blog is a bit cathartic... but that's the way it is. There's a few things I want to get off my chest.

Ian Harris where are you?
Ian Harris is a journalist/commentator who writes regularly in the local paper. I am not sure where he lives, I suspect it is locally. Anyway on Friday he wrote about "progressive Christianity" and described a style of Church that we are seeking to establish. He says of this that "the focus is on building communities bearing ... 'the dangerous memory of Jesus', and exploring what that means for living today". There are aspects about "progressive Christianity" that pertain to the way we understand "belief", the way we see the scriptures, about inclusiveness and a certain style of Church language etc. Anyway the thing that annoyed me is that he wrote.... ".. so far just five congregations (in NZ) identify themselves as progressive." He listed them off. That annoys me. I wanted to yell... "Hey Ian, I would class ourselves as fitting that description!" (even more so than one he listed) I also know of some renegade Baptist and Methodist ministers and congregations who would fit the description. And what about churches which are in transition? It takes heaps of blood sweat and tears to bring change in congregations and I felt Ian Harris did not have the right to make such a claim. The thing is that I already wrote a letter to the editor about another matter last week and did not want to sound off again this week. I thought too that it was something that was better done in private. I have been looking for some contact address for Ian Harris to respond to him in person, but cannot find it. Google let me down. I will keep looking.
"Bloody Terry! ... bloody mental health system!"
Friday week ago Terry came to our drop-in centre as he normally did every Friday night. I have known Terry for about 15 years. I have played hours of pool and table tennis with him. I have swum with him and spent hours in conversation with him. Terry loved to go tramping. He loved building things with rocks and was good at it. He built his own house, a mini rock castle with a tower. He had a massive conservatory on his castle in which he had a very productive vege garden. He sometimes tended to be paranoid about authorities, often bucked the system but was generally fairly rational. Well this Friday night when I asked him how he was he broke down and cried. He had had enough. He suggested suicide, and I didn't want him to go home to his castle alone that night. I booked him into the night shelter where I knew someone was supervising. Well it turned out the supervisor felt he was too irrational, called the police and psych services and Terry was carted off to the hospital. They checked him out and Terry went home. The next morning I made contact with him, and during last week he touched base with us several times through Space2B. He was staying with friends for a few nights then spent a night in a back packer. He had been to the doctor and had another appointment booked for today. I thought his ideas of suicide were behind him. Today I sadly learned that Terry had shot himself on Saturday morning! The last thing he said to me as he walked out the door of Space2B on Friday was, "Thank you for the support Dave. It means a lot." Obviously my support was not enough. I am sad. I am angry. Angry at Terry for making the choice he did. Angry at myself... maybe there was more I could have done. Angry at our mental health system, health system and how often people don't get the support they need. Ultimately it was Terry's choice and he had his various struggles.
I recall in the early days of our drop-in centre there was a stand off between two guys, one of whom was fortified with some sort of drugs... in a bit of a stupor. The drugged up one grabbed a chair by its back and was going to smash it over the other. I stepped between them and was expecting to wear the chair. It never came. Terry who was sitting behind, calmly swung back on his seat and as the chair moved toward me, he reached up and grabbed the leg of it. It gave me the opportunity to calm things down and talk things out. Terry just winked at me and went on with his conversation.
We operate our drop-in on the smell of an oily rag, and many of our pool cues came from the store out at the rubbish tip. Terry, a good pool player, was frustrated with the standard of cues and purchased himself a new cue, but also bought one for the drop-in centre. His was stored in the cupboard along with the one he donated.
I will miss Terry. He was often very passionate about his projects and his adventures. He would race up to me and tell me about his latest adventure. My wife and I were hosted for afternoon tea at his rock castle once. He proudly showed us around and discussed the building issues with me and how he went about things. (his garden wall is made up of fridges cemented together like building bricks) He took us up to the tower, through his bedroom area. The rock, spiral stair case leading up to his bedroom is fairly narrow. He said with a cheeky grin, "I am going to get me a lady, put her up there in the bedroom, then feed her up so she can't fit back down." .. and of course gave me a wink. On Friday as I open the drop-in and let our guests in, greeting each as they come through the door, I will miss Terry's smile, nod and "Gidday Dave!" Bugger!
Philosophy of life.
As it happens my bed time reading for the last couple of weeks has been a book called "Suicide: The forever decision." by Dr. Paul G. Quinnett. It is a printed off E-book. In the very last chapter Dr Quinnett challenges his readers (people considering suicide) to think about a philosophy of life. This, he said was a "spiritual" or "existential" exercise, requiring us to take time to think deeply about life. He said that such an exercise will be like "a flywheel" and give us hope and momentum in the difficult times of life. I think he is right. I think such an exercise would help deal to a lot of the problems we face in our society. People drinking too much, people drifting into bad lifestyles, etc. etc.
South Australian Mother of the Year...
My friend Ian's widow, Curly Corlett in South Australia, won the Mother of the Year title in South Australia. It was great. I was skyping with her on Saturday. She told me how she came across three unemployed young people asking for money out side of a shop. She gave them some and as she walked away, decided to go back and challenge them. This 60 ish year old lady (I think) went up to them and asked about their employment situation. Then in love she said to them. "You can't just sit around doing nothing all your life. It's not good for anyone. Do something! Volunteer for something. Look for something constructive to do. Don't waste your life. Other wise you will get to be an old person like me and look back on your life and see nothing worthwhile for it. Wouldn't it be good to get to my age and be able to say 'Look what I have done!'? Do something worthwhile, whether or not you're getting paid for it!" (I am paraphrasing a bit) In her motherly way she is saying in effect what Dr Quinnett is saying. Have some reason to live!

I have been asked to take part in Terry's funeral on Friday... wish me luck.

Photo: A small hut in the bush that Terry and a friend built out of the left over rubbish from the old Green Hut in the Silver Peaks area. It is in the bush down the hill from the Green Hut site. I hope to tramp in there on Saturday as a way of remembering Terry.

Friday, May 14, 2010

Friendship's ending.

I have had cause to think about the friends I have had and the ending of friendships. As I have said before, I have few close friends, but I have a few ex-close-friends. I have not yet worked out if it is me or not. Maybe when people truly get to know me they decide its time to move on.

I pulled out a book from my library the other day. There is a beautiful inscription in it expressing admiration, friendship and best wishes. This was a gift to me during a close friendship I had that lasted quite a while. I would think that we would still have some similar values. There evolved a deep difference of opinion on something we were involved in and we parted ways. When we see each other we are polite, ask about each other's life and family etc, but that closeness, that relaxed "oneness" has gone. I have another book inscribed by a friend, whose life I was deeply involved in at one time, but now I do not know where he even lives. I have a regularly used pocket knife, a letter opener from Ephesus and other stuff given to me by a much travelled friend. We still relate politely, work together, but the old relaxed ease of relating is gone. The feeling of trust has gone and more often the differences we have emerge. Another "ex". May be it is me? I must be hard to get along with?

Some friendships can be long lasting, but somehow you realise there are different goals in life, different values and the felt need you have to relate regularly doesn't emerge and you eventually lose contact. At other times it may be that both you and they have changed. We all change. The changes mean that you have less in common than you once did and friendship dies. Sometimes you have been deeply hurt by comments or actions and that easy trust and openness you once had goes. You don't want to open yourself to being hurt again, so you naturally back off. Sometimes too it can be that once you get to know the person you realise you are different, and an initial friendship changes to a more distant friendship.

I remember an often married fire fighter receiving his Gold Star award, signifying 25 years of service to the brigade. He was making his speech and he said; "...and I thank my wife".... then he paused and looked around the room.... "all four of them." he said sincerely but with a grin. Even past or "ex" friends contribute to your life and you can be thankful for them.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

You know you are old when...

My wife and I celebrated our 41st wedding anniversary on Monday. (I mentioned this at a fire station the other day and they retorted, "Most of us in this room are not that old!") We must be getting old because most often for anniversaries we have treated ourselves to a night or two away in a motel with a spa. This time it never seemed to be mentioned so never happened. Perhaps that in itself is a sign of old age? We had a good day at home anyway. In the evening we went out for dinner and then went to the movies. ("Blind Side" - I LOVE anything with Sandra Bullock in it!)

Our daughter had given Jean a gift card with $37 on it, the price of two tickets to the movies and two ice-creams. At the counter we ordered two tickets and two ice-creams and handed over the card. To our surprise the woman behind the counter handed it back saying that we still had $20 on it? My wife asked her, "Are you sure that's right? You did get two tickets didn't you?" The woman assured us it was, so we accepted the card and went our way. It was then that we realised that Monday was a special for seniors. In NZ that is considered over 65's. This girl, bless her, had looked at us and assumed we were an over 65 year old couple going to the movies on a Monday night because it is cheap then! How dare she see me as over 65!

Well there has to be some perks for looking old. We didn't go back and set the record straight and offer to pay the full price. We had questioned it already and the movie was about to start. Anyway $37 is way too much to charge for two people to go to a movie!

But I had to admit, even though I still feel like I should be forty something, I must look old! Life passes so quickly! If you are young remember that.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Deep philosophical potato question.

Yesterday I dug the last four rows of potatoes that we grew. (I know avid gardeners will be shocked... they should have been out of the ground ages ago!) The seed potatoes that were planted for two of the rows were throw- out potatoes from Willowbank Fire Station. They were tidying up their garden and had a box of old, wild, self sown potatoes that they gave me to take home and plant. The other two rows were serious, certified seed potatoes from a garden shop, which were planted a little later but in, what I thought was better well worked soil. The old, self sown spuds given to me produced the best crop by far! Both had to grow among weeds and were given just a little attention. They were earthed up only once and I put pea straw on top of them at one stage.

It is very nice harvesting your own food! I would have to say, though, I would not have needed to go to the gym for a workout, nearly every muscle in my upper body ached a little.(they were long rows) But when I looked at a wheelbarrow full of healthy spuds, which I know have not been sprayed and are essentially free food, it is a good buzz. I look forward to when I retire and hopefully have a little more time to farm this acre more purposefully. There are people in the world who could earn a living off this land! (I only hope I am fit enough to enjoy it in four years time!)

My deep philosophical question: How come when you are digging spuds, even when you think carefully about where you put your fork in the soil, and think you have it right, you ALWAYS put a tine through the best and biggest spud, .....or sometimes two or three! You carefully calculate. "The plant top comes out of the ground here!... That would be about the centre. Therefore if I put my fork in... here.... I will miss the potatoes and lever up the crop!" You push the fork in the ground and feel and hear the unmistakable sound of a potato being pierced! Why does mother nature do that to you? Anyone who has harvested potatoes knows that feel.

I once worked for a dutch man. He was a child in Holland during the war. He told how the family was poor and often hungry. His parents would send him out into the country to a potato paddock after it had been harvested. His job was to pick through the soil and find the little potatoes or damaged potatoes that were left behind, and bring them back for the extended family. He told of having worked all day for a small wheelbarrow load of spuds and setting out to walk home. His journey was interrupted by soldiers who took the load off him. He said this happened to him more than once and he had to learn to sneak through the streets, watching out for, and trying to avoid the soldiers.

Photo: The spuds from the two good rows. Max my dog accompanied me. Why do dogs love chewing on silverbeet and other plants in the garden? We once had a dog who would eat the strawberries as soon as they became red! Max chewed on silverbeet, turnips and potatoes. He did seem to know what "Get off the garden!" mean't. Maybe it was just the tone of my voice?

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Friendly expressions

As I look back on this week I consider that I am a lucky man. I have had a number of expressions of friendship this week which all add up to a boost to my "emotional energy".

I went to do my chaplaincy at the fire station on Tuesday. As I walked across the yard I met a fire officer and greeted him. We caught up on how each other was as we walked toward the mess (military name for dinning room) for afternoon tea. They had shared an exercise with ambulance and police staff so the mess was packed with extra fire crews and visitors. I followed him into the kitchen and paused to greet other firefighters on the way. I went to the cupboard to get myself a cup. "There's no cups!" I complained. This impatient but friendly voice came from the other side of the kitchen... "I've got your cup... what do you want in it?" We made our chosen drink together and I stopped to catch up with another fire fighter. By the time I had got to the crowded mess room my fire officer friend had gone to quite some trouble to organise a seat for me. It was above and beyond the call of duty, it was an expression of friendship. He still gave me cheek and we had a bit of banter going backward and forward, but his gestures made me feel welcome in this crowded room.

I seldom wander the shopping streets of town. I make quick excursions to get what I want, and rush back to my office. But since I started my chaplaincy at Allied Press I have walked the four or five blocks there at least twice a week. I seldom make the journey without stopping to talk to someone. A person from one of my chaplaincies, a drop-in centre person, Darryl the street sweeper or a Habitat for Humanity acquaintance. It is then I realise that I do know a lot of people.

On Thursday I called at the Allied Press and in the process of my visiting went out to where the actual printing presses are. I wandered among these big machines looking for the men. I met them by the sink where they were washing their hands in preparation for a tea break. As we were right near the presses I asked a question about the printing process. This man went to no end of trouble to explain it to me showing me the various parts of the machines and ending up in the control room laying out a newspaper so that I could understand the process. I realised that he was taking his break time to do this for me, and I really appreciated it. Again it was a little expression of friendship that made me feel more welcome in this place.

I visited the TV station attached to Allied Press and introduced myself to a man there. He was working at a computer and told me he was a producer. He was doing graphics for a news show, the pictures that you see over the shoulder of the news reader. I had only met this man, but he went to some trouble to show me how he timed them into the show and how the fit together. Sometimes as chaplain you feel a bit shunned, or a bit like you are seen as an interruption around the place, but this small gesture made me feel accepted. As I talked to another man in a hall way I was quite taken by the number of people who went past and waved, or nodded or smiled in recognition of my presence. Small gestures but ones that help you feel accepted.

These are just some of the expressions of friendship I have encountered. Each gives you a feeling of being wanted. Today there was another. We had a couple visiting. He is a chaplain to a school. She is a minister who trained late in life, and during her training she did an internship with me. I only talked to her and her husband briefly after the service, but we have the sort of friendship where in two words we are on the same wavelength. We share the same sort of goals, suffer the same sort of frustrations and have a similar theological outlook. Just a few minutes of conversation and I felt less alone in ministry. She only said a few sentences to me, but immediately I knew that she knew where I was at. It was really refreshing. When someone on your wave length shares with you somehow the inner reserves are built up and life feels better.

Tonight... thank you Lord for friendship. For small friendly expressions that make life sweeter and for deeper connections that tie you to people in spite of distance and lack of contact.

Food and energy from our section. Recently as I have looked at my meal at home I have been able to see that every vegetable on the plate was grown in our garden. Carrots, parsnips, turnips, the greens and the potatoes. It is a good feel. We have been lighting the fire and we know that the wood that keeps our house warm came off our acre too. Perhaps I should drill for oil? Now that would be cool!

Friday, May 7, 2010

Drop-in centre agony

I often watch people at our drop-in centre and wonder if other folk I share with have any idea what life is like for these friends of mine. I am sure many I mix with in chaplaincy and church work would never conceive of the hurdles in life these people face. If they had some idea, my guess is that many of them would still say it is their fault. Without sharing names I will share with you some conversations or incidents that broke my heart.

A mother was there with two of her children. Mum must be thirty-ish. She has three children, to different dads, but the youngest has been taken off her, and the other two girls are essentially brought up by their grandmother. At one stage, with some encouragement from my wife, mum was helping the youngest child (7yrs) to make a Mothers' day card, I guessed for grandmother. I had just sat down to watch TV and chat with another man. Suddenly the little exuberant 7 year old stood in front of me and demanded to know how to spell "Mother". Perhaps a fair enough question for a 7 year old, but I discovered that thirty-something, mum had sent the child over. It was she who could not spell "mother". ..... Now that is sad!

The man I was talking to as I watched TV has been deaf all his life. It is only recently that he has got hearing aids and he can hear now, to some degree, and converse more freely. He is in his forties now, and when sober, really quite a likable man. He was upset. He had a girlfriend/partner who stabbed him. It was the second time it had happened, and was quite a vicious stab in the abdomen. She is now in prison in Christchurch and over the last months he has spent quite a bit of money visiting her. He is sure she is a reformed person now and looks forward to moving back in with her after her return. On Friday night he was broken hearted. He did not have the $100 necessary for the travel to Christchurch and it was her birthday on Monday. He was quite anguished about it, but we decided that he could write a letter to her that she would appreciate and put it in a birthday card. Damned if I would move back with a woman who had stabbed me twice! I hope it pans out OK. In this blog I cannot pass on the way this man talks. Deaf all his life he pronounces the words quite differently, and accompanies the words with very animated actions. Lately each time he arrives he makes a bee line for me to tell me the latest drama in his life.... if he is sober. He is quite aggressive with a few in.

Another man I have known for many years and I admire him. He has had mental health issues and drug issues well in the past I think, but mostly is quite rational. He built his own house with lots of arguments with the local council and tends to be a bit of a rebel and paranoid. You get the sense he sees the "authorities" as enemies, who sometimes conspire against free souls like him. For some time now he has told us about his battle with bed bugs. He has them throughout his house and has spent money trying to clear them out. On Friday night I just had to ask how he was and he broke down in tears. He had enough! The beasties had beaten him. He said emphatically... "If I get bitten tonight I will blow my head off! I am talking suicide!" This mature, normally rational man was at the end of his tether. I talked about options. He was desperate for support. I lined up a bed in the night shelter, got his land line and mobile number and said I would ring him in the morning. When I got home I googled "bedbugs" and studied the results. I did a crash course on the nasty little insects. I rang him in the morning, he had not stayed in the night shelter, but had slept well without any more bites and was in a far better "head space". We talked more about options and he appreciated the support. I promised I would "be there" if needed.

Another man spent the night playing pool. All seemed happy, but once again when someone did something wrong he got upset. He is notorious for this sort of behaviour. He threatened, and insulted and pouted. The "wrongdoer" apologised but our man is emotionally stunted, and still huffed and puffed. The alleged wrong doer had more wisdom. He said, "Look we're all adults here, aren't we?" When he was still rebuffed he moved off to the other side of the room. As I looked at the man who was still really a child, still muttering and pouting, I felt sad again.

A simple woman came up to me wanting to talk "privately". I knew that this was to ask for money. She was living with a man who had cancer. He was very ill, really had just drunk too much, drugged to much and smoked too much in his life and it had all caught up on him. Now she had to care for him, showering him, cooking etc. and she was struggling. She was pathetic in fluttering her eyelids, getting up close, hoping for money. But it was so sad. Both of them needed proper care and support, but really it is just not there for them.

These are just a sample of these sort of people. I ache for them. What has happened in their past to get them here? Some of that is ghastly stuff. How do they fit into our fast-living community? Is there support for them? How best can they be supported?

I look at these folk, I actually think I love them and I ache for them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

The old that is new.

Over the last two weeks I have been relating to a very keen and clever young man. He is into sustainability, building a resilient society for when "peak oil" hits us and all this stuff. Now I am all for it. I think we have to do stuff related to climate change and the big changes ecologically that are hitting us at an alarming rate. He is working with young people, raising awareness, encouraging resilience and generally getting them on board. But it is funny that sometimes I had to bite my tongue.

He brought some books in to add to the church library. He saw them as revolutionary books but as he went through them there were several I had, and I thought I could easily add to his library on the subjects. He earnestly told me that the people from the church could borrow them if they were interested. His implication was that it would be good for them to get on board with this "new" lifestyle. Most were about vegetable gardening and such things. I felt like saying that the generation in church could probably have written the books! The types of things he was doing were the sorts of things their generation learned and did as part of providing for their family. They repaired things rather than threw them out. They made jams, preserved fruit, grew vegetables and composted way before it became the fashionable thing to do. He was telling me about some "new" way of ripening tomatoes, and I nearly said, (Like a belligerent old man) "Now listen here son, my wife has been doing that for forty years!" or another time I nearly said, "Hey I have been growing vegetables since I was eight years old!"

I held my tongue. I am delighted that young people are latching on to the ways of life that have been neglected in recent generations. I think they will be better for it. In my experience there is something that creates a wholeness and inner completeness about working the soil, watching things grow and seeing where food comes from. Such activity puts us in touch with the rhythms of life, helps us appreciate the forces of nature and enables us to taste life more fully. Rain becomes something appreciated and not just a nuisance. Gardening, living more basically gives us a good "grounding" in life. It even gets us more prepared for death as a part of life.

I may suggest to this young man that as part of his work he sit down and chat to older people. They will have great knowledge and experience to offer him, and it may just close the gap between generations.

I could not help thinking of the song, "I was country, when country wasn't cool."

What a week of exercise...so far. Saturday- quick walk up Mt Cargill. Sunday- small run. Monday- a bit of a spin on my wind trainer. Tuesday- early morning spin on my wind trainer and some weights. Today an early morning spin on the wind trainer and this evening a 9 K run. My legs felt a bit "heavy" tonight though. I hope to spin tomorrow morning then I will have a rest day. I may yet get thinner and fitter. :-)

I talked today with an old friend on the phone. He is now well into his eighties. He was a clever man, a manager in his working life and very quick witted. Now he has considerable health problems and it seemed to me as we talked on the phone he had slowed up quite a bit. Where as once he would respond quickly with some retort, now he seemed to have to think about each sentence. I felt a bit sad. It felt like a part of him had gone. Getting old is a bugger! ... though as someone said to me the other day, "If you're not getting old, you're compost!"

Monday, May 3, 2010

Charter for compassion

I have been planning for my church services in May. Starting with Mother's day I hope to explore the "Charter for Compassion". I am convinced that it is an important movement and right emphasis for a true understanding of "Religion". It is so important that if religious people do not get on board we and our faiths deserve to be consigned to the waste-paper basket of History. On my new Macbook pro (I have named it "My-mate-Mac") I have just watched Karen Armstrong present her plea. I encourage you, whoever you are to listen to it.

I am hoping to do some stirring about it around Dunedin. Wish me luck.

Practical simplicity

To complete my burbling on simplicity I thought I would include some practical steps to take to live a less consumptive lifestyle. These are other people's ideas from my reading.

From Richard Foster's writings..
  • Buy things for their usefulness not their status value.
  • Learn to give things away to someone who needs them more than you do - reverse the habit of accumulating.
  • Learn to enjoy things without owning them. ... parks, museums, libraries or nature.
  • Develop a deeper appreciation of the world about you. (Enjoy views, the gifts of nature (fruit, vegetables) the moods of the weather, the variety of people, growth and seasons, health and your own body.)
  • Resist buy-now-pay-later schemes.... only get involved if they are truly helpful.
From John V Taylor's book...
  • See yourself as a citizen of the planet. - Questions of poverty and environment are distorted if seen in local or national terms.
  • Waste watching... where you have a choice: resist obsolescence; choose the longer lasting. Question advertising (In his book he suggests we sit in front of TV adds or printed adverts and say "You have got to be kidding!)... resist wasteful packaging; repair.
  • Question your own lifestyle - not your neighbours.
  • If possible, work out your way of life with the help of a group. (Family, friends, study group.)
Questions to ask...
  1. How can we measure our real needs (by standards of our neighbours or by needs of the poor)?
  2. How can we be joyful without being greedy or flamboyant (e.g. hospitality)
  3. How can we be good stewards without being over-scrupulous?
  4. How can others benefit from what we have (our home, our car and other possessions)?
When I was doing my theological training I had a college Principal, E L (Lyle)Williams, who was one of the wisest men I know in this whole area. He used to speculate with house sections (blocks) and then give the profit he made back to some charity in the community. He would say with a wink, "I plan on making as much money as I can because if I have got it I know the devil hasn't!" He lived relatively simply, but was exceedingly generous in his giving. The outline of a sermon I heard him preach went like this....
  • Check how you are making your money whether in your job or in investments. What does making money this way do to other people? What impact does it have on people and the environment etc.? What does making money this way do to me and/or my family?
  • Check how we possess our money. We should possess our wealth with a certain detachment. We should possess and control it, rather than being possessed by it.
  • Check how we spend/use money. We can live relatively simply, keeping a check on how we rationalise luxuries as necessities. We can live in such a way that we can share our surplus within the community.
One last story. Many years ago as a young parson I spent about an hour in a hospital room with a dying patient, Mary. She had lived a tough old life and in her last years suffered heart troubles, multiple sclerosis and finally had to battle cancer. I mostly sat holding her hand and when she wanted to talk we talked. As she looked back on life she talked about her family, her friends and the charitable groups she had been involved in. As I left her room and said "Good bye" (I think it was the second last time I saw her) I went away feeling that I was ministered to. I came home and walked into the lounge where the family was watching TV. Emotionally exhausted I sat in a chair and blobbed. But when the adverts came on I had to leave the room, they so disturbed me. They seemed so superficial and ludicrous! All the things they were saying I needed, just seemed like crap, compared to the depth of the relationship and conversation I had shared with Mary. Most of the stuff we are told we need does not really make life any better... they just kid us that life will be "good" if we only bought....whatever. But ultimately, when the crap of life is washed away, such as in this final hour with Mary, they don't amount to a hill of beans. It is people, relationships and the quality of love shared that makes life real living.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Why a simpler lifestyle?

Another reason we need to be looking for a less consumptive lifestyle is that environmentally and ecologically this planet is in overload and blowing fuses. Also, because of disproportion, there are fuses blowing between the "haves" and the "have nots" in communities and globally. Some quotes again;

"Originally a unit of population was simply a human being whose needs were met by eating 2,500 calories and 60 grams of protein a day. Man's daily need of energy was equivalent to the continuous burning of a single 100 watt bulb. A unit of population today in the developed world consists of a human being wrapped in tons of steel, copper, aluminium, lead, tin, zinc and plastics each day gobbling up 60 lbs of raw steel and many pounds of other minerals. His energy need instead of being the equivalent to a single 100 watt lamp is equivalent to ten 1,000 watt radiators continuously burning". - Prof. Charles Birch

"It is obvious that the world cannot afford the U.S.A. Nor can it afford western Europe or Japan. In fact we might come to the conclusion that the earth cannot afford the "modern world". It requires too much and accomplishes too little. It is too uneconomic. Think of it: one American drawing on resources that would sustain 50 Indians! The earth cannot afford, say, 15% of it's inhabitants.... to indulge in a crude, materialistic way of life which ravages the earth... The problem passengers on Space-ship Earth are the first-class passengers and no one else. - E. F. Schumacher, Implications of the limits to Growth Debate- "Small is Beautiful."

A few decades have passed since these observations were made and the predictions of global distress made back then are coming true at an alarming rate. Poorer nations, trying to become more developed are having to pay the cost of excess lifestyles by the more developed nations. It is in the western nations that we could be making changes and placing limits on our lifestyle so that the global family and our very planet can continue to exist with an adequate standard of living. We have geared our whole culture around the principle of fighting against limits. But it is becoming obvious that the earth has its limits and we need to be learning to live within them. We need to be joyfully looking for ways to live with less consumption to help this planet's systems to keep being able to host us and our fellow beings, flora and fauna of this earth.

I am still a rebellious teenager and a frustrated hippie at heart and I find it fun to challenge the system. To repair things rather than discard them. To grow my own food where I can. To keep using old things, old cars, old sound systems, refusing to be sucked in by advertising which tells me to update and modernise. To not get drawn into the "status" symbol race in terms of houses, cars, clothing etc. but be rebelliously happy with what I have. I could expand but for me it is a secret joy to buck the system. I love being able to say for example, "This jumper? Oh I bought that at the second hand clothing shop!" It is a weird source of pride for me, and not something I am ashamed of.

One further observation. We lived with four children in a 25 ft. caravan for two years, as part of a job we had travelling the length of New Zealand. When we first headed out we had caravan, towing vehicle (an old ambulance) and a following station wagon loaded with extras from home that we thought we would need. When we could return to base we dumped so much stuff, we realised that we simply did not need to carry it, it was surplus to requirements, even though we cluttered our home with it. While we were living very basically (we used to lined up as a whole family on the double bed to watch TV - we wore out the bedspread.) we realised that we were still living in luxury compared to most of the population of the world. We do clutter our lives with a whole lot of extra "stuff" we seldom use.

A final quote:
"I am not against the good things of life, and I covet for all mankind a level of comfort and security that will make possible the fullest realization of our powers and our mutual enrichment. But those ideals are at the very opposite end of the moral spectrum from the excess which marks our western way of life, however similar the two may seem to be on the surface. Excess means disproportion; and disproportion can never be a recipe for survival. Excess is the subject of this book and the enemy which I shall try to invite you to fight..." - J.V. Taylor "Enough is Enough"

Having said all that, I am still hanging out to receive the latest Macbook pro that I have ordered... maybe this week? :-) I will use it well though for good purposes. .. I promise.