Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

If tables could talk..

Today we loaded an old friend on to our van and we will take it either to the Habitat for Humanity Restore, or to the rubbish dump. It is the table in the photo above. If it could talk it could tell you all sorts of things about our history.

We purchased the table one day in 1976. A month or two earlier we had moved to Palmerston North where I began my first ministry out of college. We had two young children and we moved into the church manse with virtually no furniture because we had traveled from Australia. My brother-in-law loaned us an old make shift bed base for Jean and I and months after starting we were still sleeping on it. An old sewing table was my office desk. We ate off a small beaten up table we borrowed from the church. There was a second hand store in Rangitikei Line in Palmerston North where we went, bit by bit to buy our furniture, as we could afford it. This particular day we went to our favourite second hand store to buy a bed. Enough discomfort, we could afford to buy our own bed base and mattress. We all piled into the 64 EH Holden station wagon and away we went. We walked into the store heading for the back part of it where they had beds. Just as we entered we saw this table, and six green vinyl covered steel chairs going quite cheaply. "This looks good!" one of us said. "No! We are here to buy a bed." We looked at the beds, but none really appealed and we kept coming back to this table. It had two extensions. It was a bit wobbly but that could be fixed. The chairs were dirty, but they could be cleaned. Once more we went back to the beds. We had a look at another second hand store across the road. Eventually we could not resist anymore. The table and some chairs were tied onto the roof rack, the rest in the back of the station wagon and away we went home. That was 34 years ago.

In Palmerston North every Sunday night the youth group would come for tea, so the table was loaded with food, and extensions were out. We had the young marrieds group ("The Match box club")for meals and suppers. A group of the young marrieds produced recipe books at our place to raise funds for a new chapel. The old Gestetner duplicator was put on the table and pages were printed off, then collated and stapled, all on this table. It took some cleaning to get the ink off it. A colleague decided once he and his wife were separating, so he dropped her and their little girl off at our place. I recall that when I was called from my study for the evening meal, this poor lady, sitting at the table ready to eat, would dissolve in tears. When questioned she sobbed, "We will never have a family table with a 'dad' at it anymore." Sometimes my wife and I would put the kids to bed early, and serve up a special candle lit meal, eat it at the table and adjourn to the lounge with our chosen tipple (Apple cider) for ... whatever. The kids would read at the table. My son and I would read Richard Scary books and we would delight in the pictures full of characters and action. I remember him with his little farm animals, playing farms at the table. (fences, block buildings and sheep, cows, hens etc.) His grandfather watching was quite astounded that already he knew how little calves and lambs came into being... he innocently played out the action with his animals at the correct season, and added the baby animals in the spring! We had certain relatives we used to host at the table, and for some strange reason they would often pick after dinner at our place to have a domestic about something. We once purchased a small net and table tennis bats and the table was transformed into a centre for sport. I have even pulled carburetors, starter motors and a differential to bits on the table.

When we left Palmerston North to live in a caravan as a "fieldworker" for two years the table was taken to an old house we bought in the township of Apiti. We had four children by this time. We so loved coming back to the table and spreading out, after having to eat our meals squeezed around a caravan table. At Apiti we tried a year of country/ self sufficient living with a part time job. On the table we learned to skim fat off goats milk. We learned to make yoghurt and cottage cheese and the kids did homework at the table. We had visitors from various towns come to stay and often both extensions would be on and the table full of noise and children. We often had troubled people come to visit or stay, and healing conversations would be had as we sipped tea around the table. Having been a bit of a country retreat for people we moved south to Orokonui, just north of Dunedin where we hoped to help set up a retreat centre. The table and chairs we packed into a railway wagon and they were shipped to Dunedin. The chairs were badly beaten about in the shift and gradually they were discarded. I had to often repair the legs of the table. At Orokonui and here in Sawyers Bay the table was the centre of the house. It was used for eating, baking, homework and talking things out. Eventually Jean fell in love with a round table in a second hand store and this old table was demoted.

Not for long. We began a program for families and children out at Ocean Grove in an old church hall. The table was moved out there and put in the "Kids Corner" and used for drawing, jig saws, playing with dough and reading books. When we had potluck dinners and special celebrations it was brought down to be the centre of attention again, loaded with food. The people who ran what remained of the church in the area sold the church from under us, so to continue what we were doing, we purchased an old cottage and the table was moved there. For the last few years it has been the place where children and sometimes teenagers did arts and crafts. Sometimes they played with clay and it got all messy. At other times they painted, and paint was splattered and spilled over the table. Sometimes paper machete creations meant paste and wet paper were everywhere. Sometimes kids would bring their homework and my daughter and son-in-law would help them with it at the table. All of the time caring, loving guiding conversations were being held, and often the children would speak of the difficulties they faced at home or at school.

Things have changed, and after many years we have closed the Ocean Grove program and recently sold the cottage. Possession date is on Friday so we were there today clearing out the furniture. Some we are using at our drop in centre. Some is our old furniture we are returning home. But we have no room for this old friend, now quite faded. I screwed up a leg one last time, gathered together the two extension pieces and tomorrow we'll take it to the Bargain Barn, or if they don't want it, to the dump. Whatever way, we will be saying "goodbye" to this "family treasure". It has been a centre of love, support and sustenance. A place where people really "met" each other. A place of growth and acceptance. It has served us well, and served God well.

I hope they can say that about me when I am finally passed on to where ever. "Goodbye faithful friend."

Monday, September 27, 2010

One step at a time...

It is the second evening of daylight saving. At this time every year I determine that I am going to use the extra hours of daylight wisely and well. Always it seems that when daylight saving returns in autumn, I am disappointed - I have not gardened or exercised as much as I had wanted to. Well tonight after dinner I thought I would take a quick trip up the mountain, the shorter organ pipe track. We estimated that it would still be light at about 8:30. I headed up the track at about 7:40. I got to the top at about 8:05 and sensed that it was getting darker quicker than I anticipated. So coming down I set into a jog, breaking into a run as my confidence grew. Bad idea! I put my right foot on the tip of a long flax leaf coming from the left hand side of the track. As I brought my left foot forward it got caught in the flax, and my feet stayed still while I rocketed forward on to the gravel on the track. I am not a silent sufferer so it is a wonder that the whole of Dunedin did not hear my scream. I stood up, with grazed elbows, hands and knees, hurting and indignant... I was going so well but it was just too dark to be confident enough to run. I settled then into a fast walk and when I hit enclosed bush, I turned on a head lamp to show me the way.
As I walked in the light of the head lamp I got to thinking about life. I could only see the few paces in front of me and not beyond. I had to walk those paces and gradually the next span of the path was lit up. Thinking of all the illness I have heard about recently, the Christchurch earthquake, and life in general, I decided life is a bit like that. You can plan and dream about the future, but you can only be certain of the next few steps along the way. There are always changes taking place and you have to adjust. You don't always know what your children are going to do. None of us can guarantee our health, particularly as we get older. Friendships change. Our financial circumstances can change. Recessions can hit. Technology changes dramatically. All we can do is see the next step or two, plan for the journey but recognise that we can only enjoy and see the next step or two. Adjustments from time to time are inevitable and always you can expect the unexpected to happen.
I always enjoy the moods of the mountain and it was fun being there at dusk and in the dark. As I tramped along I could hear and occasionally see the possums dashing further up the trees to get away from this mad human. I saw a rabbit make a run for it, thinking he had the mountain to himself. The red sky at night, the lights of the city and motorway, all these were a different experience at night. As were the moths flying in the light of my lamp. I went up and down in one and a quarter hours, which I did not think was bad for the conditions. In spite of my grazes, I had a good second night of daylight saving.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Health and well-being

Appreciating Health
In this last week I have heard about a number of people, who I care about, with health difficulties. I feel sad about them all, some of them are very scary circumstances indeed. I have no theological answers to why some people have to cope with so much sickness. Sometimes it is caused by various choices and environmental factors, but often it is just a bad deal of the cards... I feel for such people who battle ongoing conditions and admire them for their courage and often their persistent positive attitude. I have two sisters in law and a brother in law going through tough times at the moment. I also encountered a number in my chaplaincies who have told me about serious health scares or issues. I wish I could do something to make life easier for them but that is not my field. It has made me appreciate the measure of health I have, I am very fortunate. Yesterday I biked nearly 40k, and half of that was against a strong head wind. My quads were burning. Today I ran a slow 12k. I think I am very fortunate to still be able to enjoy such things at my age. I really appreciate having the health I have. This morning as we sang the benediction at church I got an unexplained little pain in my chest. My mind went to a few preachers I know who have collapsed at the end of a service. I don't think it was anything because it went as fast as it came.
My one gift...
As I mentioned above today I ran 12 k. I have not run that distance in a while and have not been running consistently and regularly. I set my sights on it, and stuck at the task. There was a stage just after I ran past my van at the 9k stage when I nearly turned around and walked back to the van. "No" I said to myself (OK I talk to myself...I know it is strange!) "I can do this, if I just keep putting one foot in front of the other" As I ran I thought that was the main ability I have... persistence... or perseverance. I am not highly skilled at anything in particular... I can make do at the things I do, but I have been able often to hang in there when others have given up.... At the Church, at drop-in, at chaplaincy, at Habitat for Humanity, on the Night Shelter Committee. In all these I have not been a spectacular leader, often just played the support role, but in all I have hung in and kept at tasks when others might well have given up. That is perhaps my gift -too dumb to give up. I do think that in a lot of things persistence is required. Our first house for Habitat for Humanity took two years to build. Often there was only 3 - 4 turning up and we were also involved in fund raising. But now it is on a firm footing. At the Night Shelter we had a lot of set backs. A number of people resigned in frustration. But now we are successfully meeting a need. We have been running a drop-in centre on Friday nights at the church for something like 15 years! It is meeting needs and even some have changed significantly.
I would not do that!
Driving into town this week one morning. It was blowing a gale and rain (almost sleet) was blowing horizontally. I drove past the new stadium being built and saw some men working on the massive, very high roof trusses. I saw guys sitting astride the big round structures in this terrible wind and rain! I have no doubt that they had harnesses on these days, but I thought, I would not do that for all the money they could pay me! I take my hat off to those workers. In my time I have worked on pretty high structures and scaffold, but this looked above and beyond the call of duty. I recall once, as a plumber, working on a nine story building. The concrete shell was up and some timber frame work. I was installing copper pipes in the timber frame work, clambering through the frames. It was a windy, cold wet day and while we were under cover the wind was blowing the rain in at us and it was freezing. The pipes were so cold it felt sore to hold on to them. I looked across at the building opposite. I could see the offices of, I think, a law firm. There were guys lounging at their desks with hot coffee, muffins and the newspaper spread open. It looked like they were having a late breakfast at work. I looked and thought that it seemed unfair. Here we were freezing our butts off, scrambling around frame work like apes in the forest, getting cuts, knocks and bruises, and probably getting paid half as much per hour as those guys reading the morning paper in their warm offices! Anyway I thought these guys on the stadium were pretty tough being up there the other day.
Photos from my bike ride..
- A jetty running out into the Otago Harbour at a yacht club which was the terminus of my ride.
- The late afternoon sun over the top harbour area.
- My $100 bike from K mart which I have had for a few years. It has now clocked up quite a few kilometres and owes me nothing. Who needs a $3000 bike?
- The aforementioned stadium... a controversial structure being built in Dunedin, hopefully completed by the Rugby World Cup next year!

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Look but don't see...

Yesterday we as a church got given some new furniture. A drop-in centre in town was closing down so because we also care for the folk they cared for they decided we should receive some of their assets. A couple of things were a corner desk and a filing cabinet. This led to a complete reshuffle of my office which took virtually all day. There is an old boiler room off my office that has become a bit of a storage/junk room for us, which I call "the dungeon". Years ago when I was doing something there I lost a brand new pair of glasses. I looked, and looked for these. I swore that they were not there. "I must have lost them somewhere else", I declared, "I have turned that room upside down! They are not there!" I could not find them, so we replaced them.

Yesterday in the midst of this reshuffle we wanted to "lose" an old cupboard from my office into this "Dungeon". There was not enough room, several old cupboards and drawer units were already stored there. I got in there, sat on the floor and with my feet against the wall and back against one of these units, I pushed and moved it far enough for our unwanted cupboard to be dumped there.. As I was going up the steps I looked around and I saw a pair of glasses on the floor. "Oh" I thought, "My glasses must have come off!" I picked them up and put them on my desk. Later when I was packing to go home I discovered two identical pairs of glasses on my desk! I had found the missing pair of glasses I had lost years ago!

I had, searched and searched for these! I had declared they were not there. But they were there all along. As I drove home I got to thinking, how often in lots of situations in life we do not see what is right in front of us. It can be friendship. It can be positive things happening when we are focused on the negative. It can be support from others, or love. It can be successes, or acheivements when we think we are not acheiving. In lots of circumstances I know I often fail to see what is right in front of my nose.

With a spare pair of glasses I should not miss anything now.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Supermarket musings about Life and God

“Watching, watching, watching!” is how my wife describes my demeanor when I am out and about with her. Sometimes she adds sarcastically, “...all the interesting people.” when she suspects I have been appreciating God’s beautiful women type creations. I love watching people and thinking. Today, on my day off we were in the supermarket and I was leaning on the trolly watching people. As shoppers went to and fro I got to thinking, “Here I am a minister amongst all these people, I wonder what they think of “God and/or Religion?” I guessed few cared. Then I asked myself, “Is there really a God, or am I deluded?” I thought that most of these people were probably kind, decent living, responsible people, but where does “God” fit in, and then where does “religion” fit in? They all go about their business as if there is no God, yet I struggle with old hat ways in an old establishment church, because I say I believe in “God”. How would I describe to them what I mean by the statement “I believe in God” and why I am stuck on him and involved in religion, though it all seems irrelevant to most? (My thinking was also sparked by my running friend who yesterday was challenging me about the words in hymns we sing and the style of worship we have.... I felt bad about the way I responded. A program on TV last night which described a monkey/ape creature in the Congo with a matriarchal society, which enjoys sex for fun, which are very much like us, also contributed to the way my brain was thinking today)

I don’t mean...

A man was talking to me the other day and saying, “Those who die without knowing the Lord have no hope.” What he meant is that they are consigned to hell or at the least, are not admitted to heaven when they die. (Thankfully this man’s heart was bigger than his theology) As I looked at all these shoppers, I thought of these words and decided I did not believe in that sort of God or that sort of religion any more.

“I believe in God” is a way of describing what “is” at a deep level.

I got to thinking, as my wife put two loaves of bread in the trolly, that when I say “I believe in God” I am not so much describing a being up in heaven, but rather describing what “is” all about us (even in a supermarket) at a deeper level or dimension. Reality for us is made up of this planet we call earth with all it’s systems. It is a whole lot of species of beings, animals, fish, insects, reptiles and plants, all seeking to survive on this little ball. As part of this there is this self-conscious animal called human beings (homo sapiens) who have elaborate systems of communicating and relating; who are aware of the past and the future; conscious of their own death and aware of consequences; have things we call “feelings” and “emotions” and for some reason name some things “right” and other things “wrong”. They live in groups and societies of various sizes and today more than ever before, are aware that there is the whole global society. What does it mean in all of this dynamic living reality in all its breadth to believe in “God”, where does “he” fit in?

(1) Recognising deep underlying unseen truths in human life.

For me to say I believe in God is to say that as humans relate in this whole system, and to each other, there are some deep underlying “ways of being” that I need to include in my way of seeing the world. To illustrate... there are physical laws of nature that we need to take into account. Generally if I jump off a cliff I will go down... the law of gravity. To live healthy lives we need to take that on board. To believe in God is to say that in the whole social, psychological and inter-connectedness of human life, there are deeper absolutes, laws of being, that I need to be aware of in the same way. My guess is that if I, while leaning on my shopping trolly, were to suffer a heart attack, all these decent shoppers would spring to life. The ambulance control room would be inundated with cell phone calls. Someone would come and make me comfortable. Someone may even try mouth to mouth or CPR if I was bad enough. Some one else would try to comfort my wife. The main trouble I might have is that there would be simply too many people wanting to help... it is a precious part of human nature. They are responding to an inner voice that says, “love your neighbour as yourself” or “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” It is no accident that nearly every religion known to humankind has some form of this golden rule in their teachings. Here is an underlying absolute, a reality that is a part of what “is” that ought to be heard. Here is what I call, the “voice of God” or “God”. The writer of I John said “God is love”.... and to “know God is to love your neighbour.” To say “I believe in God” is to intentionally remind myself of this deep reality and to commit myself to it. It is an underlying reality of life.... it is not a belief in “a being” stuck in heaven, but in the midst of the supermarket, at a deeper dimension, this underlying reality “is” whether it/he is recognised or not. Implicit in this are other realities that follow. - A forgiving lifestyle is a necessity in human relationships, otherwise all hell breaks loose. (In our marriages, families, friendships, workplaces, nations) - A generous lifestyle is also necessary. Because of all the variables in life, and equality is not assured, generosity and “grace” are the necessary oil that lubricates human society at all levels. -There is a commitment to justice, a fair deal. All these are part of “love” and part of “God”. (God’s mind, will or Kingdom to use religious imagery.)

Another deep truth found in what “is”, is that we are responsible for this world and it’s systems. As we relate in it and to it, we better act responsibly otherwise it, and ultimately life itself suffers. A deep reality is this sense of accountability and stewardship, it is another part of what I mean when I say “I believe in God”. The movement toward sustainability for me is “of God”. As is the deep recognition that we are in solidarity with, inextricably linked to each other, all life and the planet.

So to say “I believe in God” for me is to see and commit to these deeper “absolutes” in the midst of life. In these, “He” calls us to healthy, whole and harmonious living. I am often “pulled up” in my actions, by the deep voice of God calling me to live responsibly, when I am tempted to do otherwise.

(2) An unseen movement or Spirit.

As I read about the history of various parts of Europe on our recent trip there, I got to thinking that often, back then, human life was cheap. Killing people, or letting them die or suffer was not a big issue, people seemed to do it fairly freely, and it was much more an accepted part of life. In spite of continued atrocities, as a human race we have progressed.

There is ongoing progress throughout history toward a more humanitarian lifestyle, and it will continue. The slave trade, racial discrimination, apartheid and gender discrimination are overcome or being overcome. We are becoming more sensitive and “socially aware” as humans. I see this as a result of an unseen life/love-force at work in our midst. In my work I have seen people who act in ways that are repulsive to those about them, make progress and change to being more responsible, more caring, more socially skilled people because they were loved. When I say that “I believe in God”, I am saying that a part of what “is” is this powerful movement or force of love and life that makes a difference in the midst of this world. It is this force that is at work in the people who would rush to my aid if I had that heart attack. It/”he” is in the friendly greetings and the conversations that I see as I stand obediently by the shopping trolley. I overheard a conversation where a man was pouring out his heart about an illness he is suffering and the listener was really hearing his pain and supporting him beautifully. There is “God”. It/he is in the passion of the teachers searching for the best way to help children grow. “He” is like the unseen life force in a plant that will push through tar seal to continue to grow. Again, God is not so much “a being” stuck in heaven pulling strings and demanding obedience, but a powerful “Spirit” bringing life amongst us. The ancient Hebrew word for God’s Spirit meant “breath” or “wind”. He is the life/love-giving breath in human living, and when I say “I believe in him” I commit myself to open my sails or my living to that wind or breath.


I think that religions are the often mythological way humans have found of trying to highlight and give expression to these deep realities in life. I need to say that they have often become ends in themselves, and blinded people or distorted people’s way of seeing these. As a follower of Jesus, I am saying that for me Jesus gives expression, reveals or helps me to focus on these deep realities.

I hate the distortions in the church. I hate the “religion-for-its-own-sake”, the imperialism and baggage that the church has got into. Trying to find new and relevant expressions of the faith is incredibly hard, partly because my own faith has been nurtured by the old expressions and I read my newer understandings into the old symbols. It is hard to think outside the box, and also lonely. I have often described ministry as trying to push a bulldozer out of a bog. I myself struggle to change and struggle to bring change. But I remain a minister in the church because I still see that a faith expression is needed to highlight these deeper realities. Somehow we need people who keep trying at least to whisper “God” to remind us that there are underlying spiritual truths and a movement or current of life to enjoy, latch on to and be a part of.

All this waffle is my thinking aloud. It may change tomorrow... but today my supermarket musings led me to trying to give expression to and write about to that which is impossible to describe.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The violence in our country!

Nasty Nazis under the surface?
While overseas I visited Auschwitz and Birkenau. The experience tore at your heart as one after another you heard about the atrocities carried out by humans upon other humans in those places. You were astounded and sicken by the realisation that just last century, almost in my life time, a western "christian" nation could do this to people. In Berlin I went to the Holocaust memorial and the museum under it. There I saw a photo that still haunts me. In the photo these women, Polish I think, had been stripped and were lying face down in a big pit. Standing over them were about four Nazis soldiers with pistols in hand shooting them one by one. One thing that was haunting about the photo was this one young woman looking back over her shoulder at the German officer who was leveling his pistol toward her head. I guess in the next second or two she was dead. I remember standing in front of that photo wishing I could wind back time. I found myself looking at this German soldier, a nice looking man, and wondering "How could he?" After each of these visits I comforted myself thinking that we in the modern western world had moved on from these nasty days. "Such a thing would not happen now" I tried to convince myself. But I don't think we have. Even in New Zealand.

This week in the news I have been astounded by the levels of violence in NZ. Last weekend in "Peaceful" Dunedin a young teenager was chased around the street and went into a restaurant for safety. That didn't save him, he was beaten and kicked unconscious by these other teenagers, with shoppers looking on. In another part of town a lady was stabbed. In Porirua a TV crew was interviewing a shop keeper. Her and her mother had been beaten by girl gangs. While the filming was going on a brawl broke out in the street outside between two women, one a teenager and the other a 26 year old. They were going hammer and tongs and even when it was broken up, they were screaming obscenities at each other... one declaring that she "was a Christian... that girl needed her arse kicked and I did it!" Incredible scenes. In Christchurch one young man may be blind in one eye because a guy pulled an air pistol and shot him in the head and eye! Someone left a cat in an air tight box on a motorway to die. A family was woken by two male intruders armed with a screw driver, metal bar and a knife. A fight followed, mum, dad and children absolutely terrified. Tonight I read of drive by slug gun shootings in Palmerston North. There have been others also that defy description. Are we any better than those nasty Nazis? If people like these got political power (and other news items this week exposed the nature of one of our politicians) would they not be just as violent but with more power and impact? In my chaplaincies this week I struck two men in two different places breathing all sorts of irrational generalisations, hatred and threats against Muslims! I don't know what sort of warped propaganda they had been reading. I suspect that there are many New Zealanders who if you scratched the surface and looked into their "souls" they too could easily be just like that Nazi soldier leveling his gun at a poor defenseless naked woman's head just because she was the wrong nationality.

Where does this violence come from? How do we stop it? What are we doing wrong that we breed such violent people? I don't know, but it scares me, challenges me and worries me.

Surprise! He's a nice Christian.
I was at a chaplaincy this week talking to the receptionist as I signed in. We were interrupted by an older lady customer, known to the receptionist, who commented on our interaction. I passed a cheeky comment, teasing the receptionist. (Nothing bad or sexual I assure you) . The receptionist laughed and said to the older lady... "Have you met Dave? You wouldn't know it, he's a Christian!" The old lady shuddered and put a grimace on her face, she obviously didn't have much time for Christians. The receptionist went on, "Oh he's a nice one. Even though he's a christian, he's a nice one, the nicest I have ever known!" How sad, what have we Christians done wrong to deserve such a bad reputation? How come she is surprised to find a "nice one"? I wish my good church people, who are often blind to how people view the church, could take on board such statements.

- I enjoyed peaceful Dunedin bush today.
- Auschwitz entrance building from the railway platform on which people's fate was decided.
- The holocaust memorial in Berlin.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

"I know! Let's research it!"

Today I was at a meeting to explore the possibility of offering a place to meet for a couple of hours a day to vulnerable people wandering the street. I know from our drop-in centre contacts that a whole lot of people would be better off with a day time place to go. "Fred" has a gambling and drinking problem, is going downhill. If he had a place to go to for the middle of the day he could be encouraged not to drink and gamble so much. He would have something to do, some good food and less temptation. "Jack" wanders the streets getting half empty bottles of booze and thrown out food out of rubbish tins. It would be so good if there was a place he could call in to, especially on a cold day. "Dave" goes to a work program two days a week, but is tempted to go to the pokey machines on other days when he is bored. It would be easier if he had others to mix with. "Bill" and "Wayne" with Bill's wife "Jill" are just bored. No employment so not much money in the family, no sense of "purpose" and in their boredom tend to spend money on rubbish stuff. Another couple have greater struggles, he's trying to stay out of trouble and away from drugs so that they can keep looking after her children. Some place they can go to, where he can talk about it and have others to mix with would be so good. ... I could go on listing off potential users of such a service. May be we cannot work miracles in their life, but we would offer friendship, some reasonable food, company and help bring more stability about their life.

At the meeting there were a couple of professional social worker types, who use the latest lingo and use initials every second sentence. They may know the theory, jargon and programs, but I suspect do not mix much with my friends, Fred, Jack, Dave, Bill, Wayne, Jill, Trev, Janet and others. They said, "Do we know the need?" "Do we know the numbers?" "Do we know the sorts of things they need?" ... "They need regular contact with some sort of 'normal' friend who will support them." I commented..... "But what about quality and quantity?" ... etc. etc. .... "I know, lets spend up to $10,000 on someone who will research the need and numbers." .... That's what they decided to do!

I could do nothing. The church has a facility but I don't think I have a mandate to offer it. I thought I had an agency willing to run it, in fact I am sure I have. I don't have the time nor the freedom to do anything much myself. ... but today I just wanted to win lotto and be able to say, "Cut the crap, reach out to support these people NOW!" I could do so much more with $10000 than "research"... bugger! I could just talk to the people I know and find out the numbers. I have at least fifteen years experience (much longer in reality, everywhere I have been I have been involved with poorer folks. ) with these people. I have some social work/community work training. ... I just got the feeling these people, with all their jargon and theory, thought I was an ignorant, though well intentioned parson. ....... I could be wrong! I know! I'll research it some more. Bloody Hell! .... sorry... "Hemorrhaging Hades". ... "Keep walking the streets guys! We're thinking about it."

Monday, September 13, 2010

Beautiful Birdsong...

Two jobs off the "to do" list around home.
Today, Monday is my weekly day off. I slept in a little then dug a patch of ground. It was meant to have some yams, but I think most have rotted. It was very wet, so each shovel load was quite heavy. As well as this, I chopped up a big branch that I had taken off a tree. It is now drying and part of next year's fire wood collection. It was a good day off apart from some phone calls to deal with. There is something about getting into my vegetable garden area. We are surrounded by bush and I feel like I am in a different world than my normal tension filled existence. The trees, the hens, the goats and the paddocks all transport me away from work issues. Even the repetitive physical digging seems a boost. I set myself goals... "Before morning tea I will have..." and just work slowly toward them.
Beautiful Bird song
My rhythm for digging is to first cut segments with a spade. Then dig a row with the shovel, pause to rest at the end of the row, then pick up the spade and cut the next row. During the pause at the end of each row, I look around and take in my surroundings. I had a pair of wood pigeons flying backward and forward among the trees. You could hear the beat of their wings. They are great, they seem to land on a twig that you are sure will break under their weight, but it just bends as they land and springs back to hold them. They never seem to get it wrong. The place was so quiet that I could hear our two goats (Mary and Joseph) biting the grass in the paddock beside me. You could hear the grass being torn. But the thing that hit me time and again was the lovely bird song. In New Zealand we don't have many interesting animals. (which makes it very safe to wander the bush) But we do seem to have lots of birds. I ran/walked by forests in Poland. I listened for birds where ever I went on our big trip overseas, but I did not hear birdsong like we have here. Having been overseas, I think I appreciated it all the more. It is delightful, and a bit like an orchestra. One bird will set up a tune in one tree. Another adds a higher note on the other side of the paddock. Then there's a shrill tweeting that comes from a little bird high in the air, flying frantically, seeming to be suspended in mid- air, but still noisily adding to the symphony. After my digging I went on a bike ride, beside the Otago Harbour and it's busy road. But even then, above the noise of the cars and trucks, I heard the birds singing their evening chorus. If you are in New Zealand, take time to enjoy the birds. They are a precious gift, making fantastic music that cheers the soul, if you stop and listen.
Getting old...
I dug this very wet patch of ground. It was heavy to turn over and break up. Before we went away I had a sore back, something had "gone out" in it. Fortunately it came right and never troubled me on our holiday, even though I was lugging two heavy bags. But today, about four rows of digging from the end of the patch, my back started to hurt, something had changed in it. It was not just overworked muscle pain, it was the pain I had before. I was so near to finishing that I kept going. What is it? I used to be able to dig all day without such trouble? Not that long ago I remember turning over two patches of ground the size of today's one, with no adverse impacts, apart from tired muscles. But today I ended up having to dig out the pain killers the doctor had given me. I must be getting old! Am I going to be bugged by this weakened back for the rest of my life? The Desiderata advises us to "gracefully surrender the things of youth". It is obvious I am surrendering things. It takes me all night to do what I used to do all night! I dig this one patch of ground and my back hurts! I am a frequent flier at the toilet! My hair is grey and thinning! "Gracefully surrender the things of youth"??? There is nothing "graceful" about the way I am surrendering these things. I don't like it! I hate the limitation. I have so much to do and experience! I am "raging against the dying of the light" and I will continue to do so... sorry... someone else will have to do the graceful bit! ... bugger my back hurts!

- Some of the trees next door. The birds must be building nests in them.
- Two plum trees laden with blossom in our back yard.
- Part of our back paddock with the surrounding trees and bush. See why I could never live in London?
- The patch I turned over at the cost of a sore back.

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Open spaces

Reflecting on my big overseas trip still....

I have, since I was a boy, enjoyed this poem by Banjo Paterson.

Clancy Of The Overflow

I had written him a letter which I had, for want of better
Knowledge, sent to where I met him down the Lachlan, years ago,
He was shearing when I knew him, so I sent the letter to him,
Just `on spec', addressed as follows, `Clancy, of The Overflow'.

And an answer came directed in a writing unexpected,
(And I think the same was written with a thumb-nail dipped in tar)
'Twas his shearing mate who wrote it, and verbatim I will quote it:
`Clancy's gone to Queensland droving, and we don't know where he are.'

In my wild erratic fancy visions come to me of Clancy
Gone a-droving `down the Cooper' where the Western drovers go;
As the stock are slowly stringing, Clancy rides behind them singing,
For the drover's life has pleasures that the townsfolk never know.

And the bush hath friends to meet him, and their kindly voices greet him
In the murmur of the breezes and the river on its bars,
And he sees the vision splendid of the sunlit plains extended,
And at night the wond'rous glory of the everlasting stars.

I am sitting in my dingy little office, where a stingy
Ray of sunlight struggles feebly down between the houses tall,
And the foetid air and gritty of the dusty, dirty city
Through the open window floating, spreads its foulness over all

And in place of lowing cattle, I can hear the fiendish rattle
Of the tramways and the 'buses making hurry down the street,
And the language uninviting of the gutter children fighting,
Comes fitfully and faintly through the ceaseless tramp of feet.

And the hurrying people daunt me, and their pallid faces haunt me
As they shoulder one another in their rush and nervous haste,
With their eager eyes and greedy, and their stunted forms and weedy,
For townsfolk have no time to grow, they have no time to waste.

And I somehow rather fancy that I'd like to change with Clancy,
Like to take a turn at droving where the seasons come and go,
While he faced the round eternal of the cash-book and the journal --
But I doubt he'd suit the office, Clancy, of `The Overflow'.

I like open spaces..

This poem came to mind when I was in London and in the cities of Europe and the UK. In our London Hostel and Hotel there was the constant noise of "London" coming through the window. I would describe it as being like the sound of a hive of angry bees buzzing continuously. Of course this was punctuated by the odd siren or screeching of brakes.

In every city I visited there seem to be row upon row of tenement-street-front type houses with little or no back-yard. You could not help but notice their chimneys lined up. There was concrete, brick and/or stones every where with few areas of green. I saw schools with virtually no play ground, except perhaps the concrete roof of one of the school buildings.

The footpaths, the transport and buildings seemed to be loaded with people. The volumes of people remind me of crowds coming out of a rugby match here in NZ, but always there was nothing special happening, the place is just like that all the time.

There is something exciting and edgy about it, but after several weeks of such city scenes I longed for the openness, the bush, the soil, the bird song and "emptiness" of NZ. It is wrong and counter-productive to go overseas and spend your time comparing, you have to accept and enjoy the "personality" of each city. I enjoyed the sights and sounds, but they also made me appreciate the life I have here. For me, NZ is OK.


- scene from the old city wall in York

- my home town of Dunedin NZ

- An Edinburgh Street

- The London Tube

- Amsterdam street (Concrete, bricks and cobble stones.)

Friday, September 10, 2010

The "back at work" week so far.

Wow, what a week it seems to have been, so far. I was taking a rough estimate of my hours and I reckon in four days (Tuesday - Friday) I have worked 47 hours at least. There has been all sorts of ups and downs during the week. I nearly lost my cool at a meeting. I have reacquainted myself with my chaplaincy people. I have visited and been visited. Tonight I was part of our drop-in and spent the night in intensive talking. "Why did you become a minister?" I listen to a lady who told me she was raped at 14. She has had her children taken off her. She continues to have problems with relationships and with violence. "I believe in God" she told me, "but when I pray he isn't listening. I feel like a prisoner locked inside and can't get out... how can God help?" Another man asked about why I was a minister, then said, "I thought you were in it for the money?" He was serious!

I have struggled with a cold all week, and lack of sleep. It seems like people have been saying, "Oh welcome back! It's good to see you. Did you have a good trip. ... now we have been waiting for your return... can you....?" and lumbered me with more responsibilities.

I have felt privileged though. People have genuinely been pleased to see me and have shared themselves with me. At times I have felt that my presence is important to the folk I have been talking with and that I have something to offer them in their life. I have felt the pressure of trying to find time for everything, but at the same time felt the privilege of being "with" people. The ministry I have, my community involvements and my view of "the church" make my life intensely diverse and interesting. Tonight I feel exhausted, I wonder how I am going to get everything done in the next one and a half days, but I feel like I am mostly doing worthwhile stuff.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where Jesus was.

"One day when many tax collectors and other outcasts came to listen to Jesus, the Pharisees and teachers of the Law started grumbling. 'this man welcomes outcasts and even eats with them!' So Jesus told them this parable".... (Luke 15:1-3)

This is the beginning of this coming Sunday's reading. Of course the stories that Jesus goes on to tell are the story of the "The lost Sheep", "The lost coin" and the "Lost Son" or what is often known as the prodigal son. It is always a challenge to me to be as open and as welcoming as Jesus was.
I have to lead a service on this theme. The stories are lovely and delightful but they are Jesus' way of justifying who he is mixing with. I find that I love the stories, but actually practicing the openness and lifestyle he is talking about in my living, is not as easy as listening to the beautiful stories. It's comfort zone stuff, we are stretched and it can be unpredictable. Oh well. I'll have to wait and see what "emerges" by Sunday.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Hit the decks running...

A flying start...
We arrived home from our big seven week overseas trip on Thursday. (Hitting NZ at 1 a.m. and home at about 10a.m.) I went into the office on Friday catching up on emails, phone messages and some people. We also helped out at the Drop-in centre in the evening. We, of course, were quite tired. At 4:30 a.m. on Saturday morning, when the earthquake hit Christchurch we were already awake, having had a milk drink and had been discussing my future. Do I want to get back into the fast paced lifestyle? Was my work really making a difference, or was it just a vain life-support system for a dying institution? After the quake we turned over to go to sleep and my cell phone buzzed with a text from my son in Christchurch. Another text meant we rang him to see how he was. We were well awake when around 7 we had a phone call from other son, (and wife) at Auckland airport, fresh back from Poland and now unable to get to Christchurch. With phone calls going backward and forward, he managed to get a flight to Queenstown. Dunedin daughter and son-in-law offered to go there to pick them up and return them to our place... but that meant that I had to take on their normal duties of doing the Church newsletter and preparing the Sunday morning powerpoints. So Saturday till late at night was spent working as well as preparing the service for Sunday. The fast paced lifestyle had started! Yesterday, my 62nd birthday, I had off and fixed up an improved kennel for our returning dog, went shopping and had dinner with friends at night. This morning I have come into the office at 8 a.m. to start life in earnest again.
I am excited by the possibilities.
While overseas, I saw some churches going in similar directions that we are going in and I was encouraged. We are looking to launch a "Sustainability hub" as part of our Space2B, and this is a great step forward. Already there are sustainability activities in our facilities, this will bring a focus. There is a possibility that an ecumenical day time drop-in centre might happen in our facilities. All this sort of stuff is a fulfilment of my dream for the church as a hub of life-enhancing activity in the centre of the city.
But... at the same time I am fearful of the responsibilities.
The workload, the needed skills and the challenges ahead make me apprehensive. How do we make our worship more enjoyable and relevant? How are we going to resource all this growth? Do I have the skills to lead change and keep people "happy"? And how am I going to improve my pastoral ministry in all this?

I visited the new Bunnings hardware store yesterday. (I felt unfaithful to the Mitre ten Mega store) They were not busy, but I looked at the staff doing their work and thought, "Wouldn't it be nice to have a relatively simple job like that?"

In the early hours of this morning when I should still have been asleep I was inspired by this statement I read:

"The Church, like Jesus, is meant to measure us at our tallest, to celebrate our divinity from the moment of our birth, to keep our focus on the beckoning horizons of possibility. It traces for us the hidden shape of God in all creation, the smile of God in all reli8gions, the transforming power of the Holy Spirit in a world called the body of God. The Church is there to reveal to us another courageous way of living, a way of believing in the light while still in the dark." (By Daniel O'Leary in Tui Motu magazine)

So I hit the decks running today. A new start in my Church work - the beginning of my 63rd year of life. A busy day of planning, preparation and chaplaincy, which will end with an important Church leaders' team meeting tonight. I am excited, fearful, still tired and with a touch of a cold coming on. Wish me luck or say a prayer on my behalf.

Friday, September 3, 2010

"I contain Multitudes"

Walking in the door of the St Fagan's National History Museum, by the entrance to an exhibition about Welsh lifestyle there is this poem apparently commissioned for the museum. I loved it. There are a lot of thoughts in it that I identify with.

- It rang bells in terms of what I discovered as I learned about the history of the UK.
- It rang bells as to how I felt about NZ while away. I enjoyed the places I went, but often the words of the old scottish song came to mind; "As fair as these green foreign hills may be, they are not the hills of home." I realised that much of my identity lay in the NZ lifestyle, the openess and "earthyness" of the country.
- It rang bells as to how important the church, with all its faults and distortions (and they are many) is to me. Overseas where ever I saw a church expressing something of my understanding of the Gospel I felt less alone and more a part of an invisible force for good. Unfortunately I often saw expressions of "church" I could not identify with.

I liked this poem anyway....

A Meeting Place

I am singular

My time is now,

And I am here,

But I am not alone.

At my back I hear

the ticking of the past,

the faint breathing of many generations

Of my ancestors;

And all about me

Is the family of man.

Here I see what makes the

fundamental me,

A roof above me, bed, and work

Daily bread, and water,

Here I see my words

Here the beliefs that sustain me.

I ponder here the meaning of me...

I ponder here the meaning of “we”..

And what is my humanity...

In this hall is where

I’ll see clues to my identity.

“I contain multitudes”

Written by Gwyn Thomas (Welsh National Poet)

Placed near the entrance to exhibits in the St Fagans National History Museum in Cardiff.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Like wow!

We arrived home from our big overseas experience today. It was a long trip. We got out of bed at 5 a.m. on Tuesday in London, and at 9:40 flew via Dubai (an hour there) to Brunei. This took nearly seventeen hours. We stayed 2 hours at the airport there, boarded another flight for the 9 hour flight to Auckland, arriving at about 1 a.m. on Thursday (NZ time). After clearing customs, we had a cup of tea and tried to sleep on the seats at the International terminal. When it got too noisy just before 5 a.m. we had another cup of tea with some breakfast and walked to the domestic terminal. At around 7:15 we took off on our flight south to Dunedin arriving around 9 a.m. Our daughter met us and delivered us home. Coming up our street as we got close to our house I looked at our letterbox and saw that it was white. "Who has painted our letterbox?" I asked.... but then as Angela turned into our drive I realised it was probably the same people who had painted our house.

We quizzed Angela and she told us what she knew, but apparently there were a number involved. Some fire wood has been cut, some paths water blasted, some window sills worked on and the whole exterior of the house has been painted. I had it as an urgent "to do" thing to get on to in the summer months, but now it looks so good. I don't yet know who all to thank, but it is rather mind boggling! I keep ducking out and walking around wondering who all was involved.

I am geared for doing for others, but I find it extremely difficult to receive. I want to ask "why?". I feel guilty that people have given up their time to help me. I feel obligated to them. I really do not know how to handle this great gift. I love it, it is a great burden off my shoulders and will allow other work, but at the same time I hate receiving the help and feel quite confused by the whole thing.

Anyway, I am often a "grumble bum", but NOT today.... some people have just painted my house as a gift for free! Isn't that good news! The world is not all bad.