Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Sunday stewing.

Still confused.
I have had a disturbing week with lots of confusion in my mind about my future. There is still the possibility of another job lurking around ... I haven't put an application in, but they are sending me encouraging emails. It is hard to explain my frustrations with ministry and my difficulty coping. It is not a workload thing, though life is pretty "full on". I have before described ministry in this church by using the picture of a bulldozer stuck in a bog and you are trying to push it out of it. I guess that's what it feels like and sometimes you move it an inch, at other times it feels like it slips back into the mud. But somehow I have not been on top emotionally lately. On Saturday I was to attend a critical incident peer support team training day, but my car's electric windows got stuck open on Friday night. (I swear there was nothing wrong with winding a handle to open a car window! I hate electric window winders! I think every car I have had with electric windows has caused problems.) I got up early to fix it so I could go to the training, but at a certain point I decided I could say "no" to the training day and do the job properly. It meant I could work on Sunday morning's service, power points, and build some exercise into my day. That time proved invaluable. I said "no", and then "no"again to another invitation to lunch today and that is not like me! I usually feel obligated to attend such things, but I felt the need to "get out from under" and take time out. There are good things happening at the church. Space2B is going well. It is so good to see life enhancing events happening there with the buzz of people talking. Sustainability groups meet there. The Multi-ethnic Council meets there and partners with us. Friends meet at the church and support one another. The Drop-in on Friday night was a warm friendly time and we could see progress in people's lives. Most of the church members are unaware of these developments. They may not see it as "Church growth" or even fulfilling the mission of the church, but I do. One of the hassles I have is that I am on the "edge" of orthodoxy in my understandings of the faith, and it's a bit hard fitting into orthodox expectations. Anyway I suspect I will stay in ministry, my sense of "call" (don't ask me to explain that?) still out weighs a longing for an easier life. I am aware that Space2B, Drop-in centre, chaplaincy links and church directions will suffer if I moved on elsewhere. .. I would let a lot of people down.
The highlights of my week have been exercise. Last Monday afternoon I went into Swampy Summit and enjoyed my walk/run. On Wednesday night my wife dropped me at a point about 11k from home and I jogged home around the side of the harbour. It was such an enjoyable experience I wondered why I have not done it before. I will do it again. Late on Saturday afternoon I went for a much more uncomfortable 9k run in the wind, but you can polish a sermon while running and I was pleased to be able to do it. Today I ventured in running gear up to Swampy summit again. On Monday I deleted 30 minutes off the time I had done it before and I thought that was pretty good. Tonight I improved even on that by 10 minutes. (2hours 15 minutes) It is so good being 62 years old, still fit and improving. With my dad's early death, and my lack of exercise in my 30's, I never thought it would happen to me, but I am so grateful for my health at the moment.
Compliments now?
This morning was weird. I conducted a good service, but in my mind as I sang the benediction was the thought that I may not be doing this for much longer. After the service we went into morning tea. Some visitors to the service came to me and were glowing in their feedback. One in particular went to great lengths to say how good it was and he seemed a thoughtful guy. One guy said he had a "gift"... I guess of discernment. He told me he could see "the light of Christ shining out" of me, "you do so much good for a lot of people". I don't know what to make of all that sort of thing, I know who I am, and mostly I am a bit mixed up. My wife, who knows my dark side better than anyone, said she could understand that comment. But the thing was that virtually everyone I spoke to oozed compliments. Some went out of their way to come over to tell me. People talked to my wife and said good things too. Why now? When I am thinking of leaving? And they don't know that? Interesting..... and hard to handle.

I used this old poem recited by a man who was a base singer for Elvis Presley in today's service. It is called, "The touch of the Master's hand".

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Insatiable Moon and other waffle..

I went to the film "The Insatiable Moon" tonight. It is a story about a boarding house where mental health patients reside in Ponsonby in Auckland. I loved the film and its various characters. I "know" lots of people like them, both the "patients" and the other characters. There was a suicide in the film and the funeral after. That was a bit close to the bone. Two friends of mine have committed suicide in the last 18 months. There was a vicar in the film who was discovering a whole new world among the people in the boarding house. I laughed. He was preparing his sermon, doodling on the side of the paper when one patient knocked on his door. "Oh f#*k, f---, f---." he said, then went to the door with his "vicar's smile" on saying "How can I help?" My wife dug me in the ribs, and knew I sometimes express very unchristian expletives at such times.

There was another scene when the vicar told this man that he had helped him to decide on resigning. He then said, "Without you I don't know how long I would have stayed buried in this job." That's what I sometimes feel. Buried in a job charged with trying to keep an out dated institution alive. Anyway if you get a chance go see it, I enjoyed it, but then I could identify so much with the characters, atmosphere and the issues it raised. You may go and say, "Huh? What's the point?"

About that job I thought of applying for. I got an answer back from my enquiry. They really don't pay enough! I would find the drop in pay too great to cope with. This is an issue in itself. I really feel for the guys who work in the firm. They don't get a fair wage in my opinion.

So I better read that article... "Take this job and love it!" ... Now where did I throw that thing???

Monday, October 25, 2010

Monday meanderings...

Bullet proof???
There were things that concerned me at the start of today. I wanted to dig over a patch of ground that I started a week or two ago. I have had a troubled back. Even when I dug a hole to bury our cat the other night my back began to hurt. So I was dreading digging this patch of ground. My dread was not that the back hurts really bad, but if it happens so easily it means that I AM getting old and frail. For years I have been bullet proof. I have been able to dig for hours and not worry. I could mix concrete, or dig holes, or lift heavy building stuff for hours, others would complain of back problems but not me. But this year my back has "gone out" and caused problems. The reason I dread a habitual bad back is that I have an acre of ground here. Apart from a not very well looked after vegetable garden, I cannot do much with it at the moment, my life is too full of other activity. But I am looking forward to three years time when I retire, and I can show the world how self-sufficient one can be on an acre. My fear is that in three years time I will not be fit enough to enjoy my acre! I may be too old and frail to do all that I will want to do. So I was fearful that digging this patch of ground might confirm that my back can't take it any more.
The second thing I discovered was that the application form for this possible job asks about backs and heavy lifting. It asks if you have had any injury from heavy lifting. It asks if you have had days off in your current employment, and how many and what for? It asks if you have had ACC (Accident Compensation Corporation) claims? Now it just so happens that a few months ago I had a day off work, my first sick day in years. It was for a back injury that happened at work and I did go to a physiotherapist, and he claimed through ACC. That will not look good on an application form, especially lined up with my age... 62. People looking at that will think "an unfit old man with back problems! We wont touch him!" No matter that I can still run a reasonable distance. It won't matter that it was my first day off in years. It just won't look good.

Well I dug a patch of ground today. Then I planted a full row of potatoes in another patch of ground. When I finished I realised I had been perspiring quite readily. I worked hard, but apart from a healthy tired feel, my back stayed together fine and feels good. My confidence in my physical ability to work has increased. Maybe I will get to enjoy my acre in three years time after all?

A great walk...
After my gardening efforts I wanted some aerobic exercise. I decided that rather than just walking up my mountain, Mount Cargill, I would try another walk I had not tried for quite a few months. I went up to a car park that is called "the Bullring". From there I walked up to a summit that overlooks the city called Flagstaff. It was about a 20 minute walk. I carried on past that, to where it joins the "Pineapple Track" then went across to join the "Swampy Summit ridge track". I walked into the Swampy Summit micro-wave towers. I stopped briefly there to have a drink and some fruit, then headed back along the track, coming back to the "Bullring" along the Firebreak track. Last time I did this walk I thought I did it fairly fast and completed it in just five minutes (I think) under the three hour mark. Today I really pushed myself. As I came up to the towers I realised I had sweat running down my face and dripping off my chin; I was walking while holding the straps of my back pack and sweat was dripping off my elbows. On the way down I jogged a few places where the track was not so rough. I was back at my van in 2 hours twenty five minutes! I was so wrapped! I knew as I went up the steep hills involved that I was handling them a way better than the time before. It felt good to actually be fitter. My mountain climbing, my jogging and my biking are paying off. I may be getting older but I am still doing OK!

It is funny how easily your confidence in your abilities can be shaken and you can decide you're past it. I was pleased, that in both my gardening and my exercise, I experienced the opposite today. (Though I have had cramp while sitting at this desk.)

Now this application for a new job? What am I to do?
I loved walking in the tussock country today. Ever since I was a boy and wandered around my uncle's high country sheep run, tussock country gives me a feeling of freedom. But as I came to a junction in the track today, I remembered that in my life I am at a junction. Do I give up on my career in the church and take an easier secular job? Or do I hang in there in spite of setbacks and difficulties? The application form sits beside me now on my desk. I have not heard back from my last enquiry. I wanted to know how much per hour they were paying. I expect a decrease in wages, but I need to know by how much. Watch this space.
-The "pretty city" (Dunedin) from Flagstaff summit.
-Hills and tussock country "free my spirit".
-There is a line of old fence posts just off the track. I would love to know who put them there, when and why?
-My goal... a micro wave tower on Swampy Summit.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Ministry/chaplaincy blues.

I have had an emotionally draining week.
Depression and stress experiences.
I have just watched a short documentary on John Kirwin's struggle with depression. (Once an All Black rugby winger- perhaps the best in the world - now a coach of the Japanese rugby team) As I watched I had a lump in my throat because I could identify with so much he talked about, though certainly I do not have the depth of depression he had. I talked with a person this week suffering from stress. Again I could identify with so much. I thought "Why talk with me? If I knew the answers I wouldn't be in the state I get myself in." I was sitting up the other morning at 3:15 a.m. exploring different sites on my computer, (second life info - good grief) because I had been in bed since around 11, but had not been able to sleep. I have had my son leave to live overseas. I have had some difficult chaplaincy situations to think about. We had our cat die and there never seems enough hours in the day. I recognise there is a cumulative impact of a series of things happening over a short period of time. Anyway, all this to tell you, I have struggled emotionally toward the end of the week.

Things I cannot change..
I have on my wall beside me here the "Serenity prayer". "God grant me serenity to accept the things I cannot change. Courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference." I struggle in the church because there are some things I cannot change. I believe they damage the work of the church and I can't do anything about them! I admit that in spite of this lovely sounding prayer, I do not have "Serenity" about them. I say to myself, "What's the use? Why try?" and every week they get me fuming inside.... no "serenity" there!

People I struggle to cope with.
This week I learned that I have to come to terms with the fact that I find myself getting angry in the presence of two different individuals. It is not that those individuals are currently doing anything wrong. In fact today one was being nice and complimentary and I found I was still getting angry. I have had deep differences of opinion with these two people. I thought I had "got over" the differences and moved on. In my head I have said, "Oh well you win some, you lose some." My head says one thing, my heart another. I was surprised at my inner reactions in their presence... anger which I dare not vent, but which then contributes to depression. I have to deal with this.... somehow. I do try to be a nice accepting tolerant sort of guy. The issues impact on the lives of others though and I struggle with that. I need to do some "inner work".

I keep on trying though...
In spite of the fact that I have had to battle these sorts of "inner demons" I do keep trying to do my best. As I prepare for each Sunday I ask myself, "What is the best way I can present these concepts?" I can open almost any gospel reading and think of a sermon I have done before on that.... so I could take life easy. But I don't. I still go about re-studying the passage. I explore commentaries. I look for resources. I spend time thinking things through in a fresh way. I think what I present generally is of a high standard. Even in my down times, I persist and perhaps even more intensely, try to do my best. Today I was warmed by an arm. As I finished the service a lovely, loving, wise elderly man who I respect and love immensely was walking near me. He moved closer, reached his arm over to my shoulder, shook it then rubbing my back looked at me, smiled and nodded his affirmation, then just moved on. Not a word was said, but I could feel his appreciation and the deep recognition of what I had presented. Today that gesture was worth everything.

Others opt out...
I talked to a man who is resigning his top job to get an easier one. At his stage in life he decided this was what he should do. I was a jealous of him, it would be so nice. His reasoning seemed very sound and sensible.

Other options...
I went to a chaplaincy where there is a man whose wife is the HR person for a firm in town. He saw me arrive and said, "Your future job is being advertised, if you want it." He had at different times talked to his wife about me and once a few years ago I had applied for and was offered a job at this firm. At that point I had turned it down, but this new job now is right up my alley. I made enquiries via email and as I ran past the place tonight I picked up an application form. It is sooo tempting.

I doubt I'll have the courage to do it. ... A country song on a CD in my van goes, "Take this job and shove it. I ain't working here no more!" I love to sing that with great gusto. I was tidying my study the other night and picked up an article I had photo copied from some where... it's title... "Take this job and love it!" ... Annoyed, I threw it in a drawer and said, "Yeah right!" Perhaps I should get it out and read it?

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Photos of our cat Wai...

Wai died on Tuesday... I have been home alone tonight and have missed her presence. I found these photos on an old computer.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

"Godly" spam.

There is a man around town who is a "greasy kleptomaniac". I have known him for years and when ever he is in my office, car or church I keep an eye on everything he touches. The thing that annoys me about him is that he will keep saying to me in the most earnest tones, "Bless you David." or "David can I have a blessing off you?" and if I do he will say goodbye and back away repeating, "Bless you David. Bless you. God bless ....David." The more he blesses me the more I wonder what he has stolen! Sometimes he will be effusive with his blessings then get to the point... "Can I have a wee bit of money... say $20.... I just need it to.... I'm a bit short because..." I never give him money these days. Now I am used to people trying to bludge money off me, I can say "no" without falling out with the person most often. What annoys me about this guy is that he is using religion "blessing me" just to get material gain. He will bless me with one breath and if he thinks he can get away with it, steal from me in the next. THAT annoys me! Give me a straight up honest bludger any day. Greasy ones, using religion to try to get what they want piss me off... woops sorry "Annoy me". To me it is low. It is using "God", using a man's faith, and using a false "friendship" to get money. Even if we don't believe, I think we should respect the faith of another. (Let me say that down-and-out people are not the only ones doing this. I have seen advertising sales people, insurance agents, car sales people and real estate agents who are just as low and greasy... in my book.)

In line with this I hate spam mail... full stop... but I really hate spam mail that starts, "Dearly beloved in Christ", "Dear Christ's one" or "My dear brother.... I have chosen you because of your love of the Lord..." That to me is low. I can't do anything about it... but let this be my gripe session. They are greasy low people who do these things. I struggle to respect them. They degrade faith, they degrade me, and they degrade God. Most of all, they degrade themselves! (I know some of my readers may say there are plenty of preachers/evangelists who use religion for money grabbing purposes, ... they too are VERY low. ) Enough said... my gripe for the week.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Goodbye little cat...

I have just come in from digging a hole in the paddock and burying our cat. I wish I could remember the date we got her. I know it was on February 6th (Waitangi Day) and it must have been somewhere between 15 & 20 years ago. My wife went for a walk up the road near the local rubbish tip. Two little kittens came out of the long grass beside the road and followed her home... and of course, with all the animal loving kids at home then, we kept them both. We figured that they seemed used to human company, so someone must have just dumped them as unwanted kittens near the tip. This one, female, grey tabby one, was called Wai. The black male one was called Tangi. They grew up in our lounge. The black one never really learned to clean itself and for the early part of its life Wai would sit by the fire cleaning her brother, (we assume they were brother and sister) licking his fur tirelessly. As they grew they stopped being really close friends and sometimes would hiss at one another. But they were good. Our severely handicapped foster daughter Pania, delighted in the cats and would beam all over when Wai would jump up on her lap. They chased rats near the hen house and kept the mouse population on our acre under control. Wai never grew to be very big, but was a great wee mouse hunter. If we saw a mouse in the house we would drop Wai near where it was last seen and she would chase it down, and was so quick to pounce on it as it made it's escape across the floor. All we had to do was open the back door and stand aside as she raced her catch outside. We often had to clean Tangi's fur, it would get matted and cause problems. He, though he was "fixed", fought neighbouring cats and often got scars and infections from the battles. A few years ago he got a bad eye and had other infections and troubles, so we let the vet "put him to sleep". Wai became our only cat.

She could always find the warmest place in the house. If the heat pump was on she sat in the hall opposite it, enjoying the warmth. If the fire was on she sat, flat on her back in front of the fire. Sometimes she would look at the log burner, and look at me as if to say, "Come on you haven't lit the fire!" She had the loudest purr I have ever heard from a cat. Sometimes she would sleep on a dining chair under the table and you would hear this strange noise seemingly coming from the table. She loved sitting on your lap but unfortunately she had a couple of habits that discouraged this practice. She would get on your lap then begin to make a nest by pushing on your thighs, legs or "nether regions" with her paws,..... claws out. The other habit she had was when she was really happy, sitting on your lap purring, she would dribble copiously. You learned to get an old news paper, then invite her onto your lap, which was more comfortable for you, but not for her.

Lately she has been sleeping inside at night. My son and daughter in law were soft and had her sleeping on their bed on the lounge floor for a week after we got back from our big OE. After that she claimed her spot on the couch and we were too soft to put her out. (We have a cat door into the garage and an old chair out there for her) Last night we did put her outside. My wife was doing the deed, but Wai pushed at me with her paw, as if she blamed me for this indignity. We found her near the vegetable garden tonight and it looked as if she had met a violent end. A couple of neighbourhood dogs were in the backyard this morning? There are other younger cats around the area who may have chased her? She was slowing up considerably and a chase she once would have relished, may have been too much for her.

We enjoy animals and have had so many over the years. Cats, dogs, goats, guinea pigs, rabbits, a couple of lambs, once a possum, birds, a duck, fish and of course hens have all been a part of our family. While we enjoy them, we are not the type that treat them as "our children" like some do. But we do appreciate their different personalities and the contribution they make to our life. "Goodbye old friend" you have gone where all of us eventually go, but you will be missed. We will miss your presence in front of the fire and the comforting purring sound.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Just trying out something..

I have often been frustrated when taking a photo from on top of my mountain. Any photo only catches a little segment of what I can experience. As I was walking down from the top on Saturday, with a heap of low cloud filling the valleys, I thought I would try something else with my camera. It still is only about a quarter of the panorama on display but it was worth trying. Don't think I'll get a job as a camera man at the TV station. :-) ... woops just listened to the sound with the video. Very windy day and the heavy breathing was because I had been walking fast. I suggest you turn the sound off... it sounds like a weird phone call.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

A roller-coaster day..

Yesterday I had a day of mixed emotions. Let me share some of the events with you.

The local Habitat for Humanity group began a project and I was not there. I have been heavily involved in all the local Habitat projects up to this point and was a founding member of the local affiliate. I have withdrawn from Habitat for a variety of reasons. I am not "at home" with directions it is heading in Nationally and some of the stuff locally. Also I got to thinking that the local Habitat folks tended to dump too much stuff on me, so decided it was best for me to make a clean break. My wife was busy organising lunches for the group and I felt a bit guilty and a wee bit of grief at not being there to enjoy the sense of achievement and the group feel.

I had to do some work toward Sunday's service. No matter how much preparation I do during the week days, I find a sermon is never done till it is over. So Saturdays are pretty important for this.

I had to prepare and then conduct an outside wedding at 2:30 in the afternoon. They were an interesting couple. He is wharf worker and they are "basic" people with no airs - what you see is what you get. I was to do a "homily" as part of the ceremony and sweated about what was appropriate to say to them. I'll let you know soon.

While I was preparing the wedding a guy, whose marriage is in a shambles, texted me desperate for some support. We talked on the phone for quite some time as he vented about his situation. He asked if I could get him a counsellor. (I was not good enough or qualified enough) ... on a Saturday? I finally finished the conversation and then managed to get him someone who would go and see him. In the meantime his estranged wife rang and we talked for quite some time on the phone. Others may be able to listen objectively and not be impacted by the sadness of the situation, but not me. I really felt and ached for these two people and the mess they found themselves in. I returned to preparing for the wedding ceremony with the feeling of saying to the happy couple, "Don't do it!! It is not worth the potential hurt!"

At around midday my daughter and son-in-law joined us for lunch with my son and daughter-in-law. Just after 1 p.m. my son and his wife were leaving for Christchurch, then to go to the other side of the world to live. I could not help but recall the scene in "Fiddler on the Roof" where Tevye is sitting at a small railway station where his daughter is about to board the train to join her fiance in Siberia. She says to her father, "God only knows when we'll see each other again, father?" Tevye replies, "Then we'll leave it in his hands" My son heads to the northern hemisphere to live and "God only knows when I'll see him again." We certainly do not have the excess funds to pay visits. As he left I was so choked up with emotion that I couldn't say anything. I choked out, "Look after yourselves." but that's all I could say. The lump in my throat and tear in my eyes prevented anything more. I have reservations about their plans but I know that they must make the decisions for themselves and I cannot see all that's involved.

Straight after saying goodbye to them I dashed into the shower, suited up and headed out the door to take this outdoor wedding, with the weather starting to feel cool. I had stewed about what I would say and found my thoughts being guided by the sad experience of the estranged couple. Just before I left I dived into a cupboard we have in the lounge and grabbed a model Mack Truck that I had assembled one lazy summer thirty odd years ago. I conducted the ceremony and here is what I said. I showed them the model truck and told them that it was fragile and needed to be treated with care. (It was sitting on top of their marriage papers which they would soon sign.) I went on to say that in the same way there were three things that needed to be treated with care in their marriage. "There is Wendy, there is Wayne, each is a special gift to the other and needs to be treated with care, respect and love. They, like my truck, can be easily broken." Then I said the third thing that needed to be treated with care was "their relationship together". It too can be easily broken if it was neglected or treated roughly. ... I told them that I said this very seriously because I had been "talking with two very hurt people this morning." I was intrigued. I had sweated over what to say, and somehow had decided this simple "object lesson" seemed to fit who they were. At some stage as we wound up the ceremony the groom said to me, "Can I take the truck home?" "No!" said the bride, "We already have too many!" I had chosen a "homily" that fitted well with this couple. One saint of old said, "When I pray coincidences happen. When I stop, they stop." I was impressed, the groom was so moved about the whole vows and the fact that he was actually getting married that he choked up repeating his vows. I think they are going to be OK.

After the wedding I took off up "my Mountain" I had been saddened by others' predicament, I had felt heartbroken at the departure of my son, I had shared in a couple's joy and I still had Sunday's service hanging over my head. I had a real mixed bag of feelings. A walk above the clouds, in the bush seemed appropriate.

Today... I led a Sunday service I felt good about. I seemed to be able to communicate well this morning. This afternoon I have had two lots of exercise. I went up the organ pipe track (I know... again!) to the top of Mount Cargill and back in 1hour, 8 minutes, which is pretty good for an older fella. Then I went for a short run with my friend.
  • The amazing cloud formations over the hills yesterday.
  • I enjoyed my trip to the top of the mountain but it looks like someone had even more fun?
  • The model truck I used as an "object lesson."

Friday, October 15, 2010

Just some pics...

Wandering around my backyard this morning I appreciated the flowers. In the midst of a sad, confusing and hectic day I found them an encouragement.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Vicarious suffering....

"Vicarious suffering" is a term I first learned at theological college. It means taking on the suffering of others. In the writings of the prophet Isaiah there are passages about the servant of God who does this. Of course this was applied to Jesus and his death on the cross. It is a very real part of being a disciple of Jesus in the world. If some of the hurt in the world is going to stop having a bad impact on the world, some people are going to have to absorb it on behalf of others. I see it as being like shock absorbers in a car, absorbing some of the bumps to make life's journey easier for others.

I have been involved in vicarious suffering. Yesterday I spent a few hours listening to a man whose world had caved in. He talked and I listened. It sounds a pretty simple task but it was not. As he talked at various points in our conversation a lump came into my throat as he shared his deep hurts. The more he got into the story of his life the more my feelings were churned up, aching for his present predicament and his past experiences. At some points I was so choked up with emotion that I struggled to respond in a cool calm voice. People say I should keep some sort of professional distance, but I was taking on board his pain. I left the place and came back to my office, realising that because of his urgent need my plans for the day had been blown apart, my service preparation time had been eaten into and I would have to review how I was going to get things done. As I sat in my office trying again to get back on track with stuff, I could not concentrate. I was still churned up with his hassles. In the end I went up to our drop-in centre area and worked on rehanging some cupboard doors. Nice physical work that could distract me. I do believe that to make a difference in the world there are times we are called upon to be shock absorbers, taking on other's pain in different ways; - "Vicarious suffering" out of the theological text books and into the real world.

When I picked up my wife from her volunteer work at the hospital at 6p.m. she suggested the option of going out for our evening meal. I turned the offer down because I was wanting to do some mid- week exercise, a run, bike ride or walk. I came home, changed and went up "my" mountain, Mount Cargill, walking up the Organ pipe track. It may seem stupid that I go up there so often. I know the track well. But it is the combination of enclosed bush, birdsong and expansive scenic views that make this a track I never tire of. I enjoyed my hour or so on the mountain and during that walk the service preparation I was behind in "came to me", the pain I had experienced in my sharing that morning dissipated and I came home a different man.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday night burblings...

Inclusiveness... and reality.
Exercising my mind and heart tonight is Jesus' inclusiveness. I have preached inclusiveness. I have even been involved in "creative conflict" trying to argue for inclusiveness, the church and Christians being open to those on the fringes of society. Jesus in his day kept breaking down the barriers to people who otherwise would be considered outcasts. This is great theology, Luke's Gospel highlights a Jesus who got into trouble for mixing with the outcasts of society. It is easy to preach sitting in church on Sunday. It is easy to say "amen" to if we stay with our type of people and never actually mix with those on the fringes. I have seen "liberal" ministers who proclaim this inclusiveness, but are scared of, confused and out of their comfort zone when confronted with people on the fringes. I have always been proud of the fact that in all the fifteen years I have run our Friday night drop-in centre I have only ever evicted one person, and that person was a ranting "religious nut". I confess that I have had a self-righteous conceit, quite sure that I am inclusive, open and accepting.

But we have had a problem. We run our Space2B at lunch times. It is geared for people shopping or working locally to call in to have a coffee with their lunch and some conversation. We purposely suggest a donation for coffee to make it different than the drop-in centre. The hassle is that there is a small group of people who come in and bludge a free cup of coffee. They see it as a drop-in centre, especially since another drop-in centre in town lost its funding and had to close. Some of them have very few social graces. They interrupt conversations, they have sometimes dominated conversations and one particular guy (we'll call him "Sam") is kind of sleazy in his comments. Women feel uncomfortable around him. We had one lady, a social work student helping us out, comment that if she was a stranger coming in, she would not come back encountering this guy. Now usually I have taken the side of the "misunderstood" fringe person. But I see this guy as a real threat to the Space2B area. (He has been banned from the city library) The same guy will turn up anywhere there is free food. He came to church because he read in the church newsletter that there was "Soup on Sunday" happening. This last weekend Settlement Resource@Space2B with the local Multi-ethnic Council held a "family night," with a potluck tea; he heard about it and declared it was open to anyone and he was coming. Worse than that on Friday night at the drop-in he was inviting another "sleazy bludger" friend. I told the friend he could not come. (At the drop-in the two of them often stand around making smart digs at people and stirring up trouble.) I was then tackled by our "Sam", he was burbling on at me in his "smooth" sleazy way. I warned him, "Don't push me!". He kept on at me; "Don't push me!" I said again. He kept burbling so I let him have it... "Sam" I said, "do you know that you come across as a sleazy bludger. I see you as a sleazy bludger. People don't like your company!" I was speaking VERY emphatically. He burbled on saying that may be so but there were others... he wasn't as bad as them. I talked for a few minutes more but then my wife spent time with him talking "frankly as a friend" and laid down the law to him, telling him bluntly how people felt about him. He and his mate went down the end of the hall and complained about us to one another and anyone who would listen. ... which were very few because he is not liked. Eventually they left the drop-in.

We were glad they did not come to the family night, but, interestingly enough, he was sitting in Church this morning and there was no free food going. I struggle with this. What would Jesus do? I want to be inclusive, but others have to be protected too? I want to be inclusive, but if his presence stops us helping others, are we doing the right thing? As I say, if I sat at home in my lounge and only mixed with nice people I would not have this problem. I could preach inclusiveness and never have it challenged by real people and real situations. I suspect that love has to be tough love sometimes... but it is not easy to sort out. I hate excluding people... but???
A very helpful encounter...
At Space2B on Wednesday we hosted a guy talking about becoming a NZ citizen. One man who walked in an hour early I recognised as a well known expert in the field of mental health. He taught a couple of sessions when I did a Community and Social Work Certificate course back in 1994. He is often one the media go to on such issues and he has been very influential, even internationally in this area. I am sure he is retired now. I eagerly offered him coffee and told him I recognised him. He was aware of the work we did with our drop-in and complimented us on it. I then asked question after question picking his brain to learn more about coping with and helping our Friday night gang. After a few questions he said jokingly, "I should be charging a consultation fee!" I responded very quickly, "Well you got a free cup of coffee. What more could you want?" It was good he had a sense of humour and we got on well. (I recall that in 1994 he seemed suspicious of this minister studying social work) He was passionate about his topic and said very eloquently, "See the person! Put the mental illness to one side and make a connection with the person! They are people! Remember that!" Maybe that will help me deal with "Sam".

  • A small photo of a multi-ethnic gathering enjoying our Space2B facilities. It was so good seeing part of a dream become real. People finding companionship, support and company in a partnership of Church and community. One lady came up to me and said, "Thank you so much for Space2B!
  • Walking up Mount Cargill this afternoon I encountered a strong freezing gale, snow coming at me but still a great feeling of .....one-ness with nature. (It is hard to describe how and why I enjoy the moods of this hill???) One lesson I learned; Do NOT pee into the wind! Enough said.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Chaplaincy makes the news....

There was a photo of me and some firefighters in the local community paper this week. I include the article for friends overseas and to reflect on the nature of chaplaincy. It is written by Bruce Munro.


Grateful firefighters have painted chaplain David Brown's house.

When Rev Brown returned to his Sawyers Bay home after his daughter's (Actually son's) wedding in Poland he was surprised to see the family home had been painted.

Up to a dozen members of New Zealand Fire Service's Dunedin Green Watch had spent between a day and two weeks preparing and painting the house, as well as cutting fire wood and repairing window sills.

Rev Brown is Workplace Support chaplain to the firefighters, Speight's, St John and Allied Press and minister of Church of Christ Community.

"I was very surprised," Rev Brown said. "I'm not used to this. It's a bit hard to be on the receiving end."

He did not know w ho was responsible for the work, "but I had a fair guess (firefighter) Paul Clements was involved".

Mr Clements said he waterblasted Rev Brown's house and organised fellow firefighters to help with painting and other work as a way of "giving something back for all he's given to us".

"He's married and buried people within the brigade," Mr Clements said.

"We respect him for what he does and how he does it," firefighter Mike Meadon said. "It was just a small thing we could do to say thanks."

Rev. Brown said working with the firefighters began 16 years ago and was his first placement as a chaplain.

It was all very nice and I was pleased with the article because it showed Workplace Support Chaplaincy in a good light and also showed the Church to be involved in people's lives in a good way. I have lost a bit of confidence in myself as a chaplain lately. My chaplaincy boss took over St John Ambulance chaplaincy while I was away and I have been subjected to a raft of "Bring back Wendy" jokes and jibes since I got back. Apart from the fact that she looks much better than I do, she did a marvelous job and fitted in with the Ambulance people so well. Of course I begin to wonder, "Maybe there are things I should be doing better?" Allied Press Chaplaincy is difficult too as people have deadlines with their noses in their computers and not much time to connect. I still find it not that easy there. So I have been feeling a little uneasy questioning my own abilities. This is a good thing because we can all drift in our jobs and need to do some self-examination from time to time.

I was pleased yesterday to have a talk with one man in a chaplaincy. He asked if I would marry him and his partner. I agreed but, because of the paper article and comments by others, the conversation went on to talk about the nature of chaplaincy. He is a thoughtful guy and his comment was that he appreciated it, because we know "you are there". He appreciated the non-intrusive nature of the way I do my work and the low key, but important support offered. He said it was good because if they wanted to talk they could, but I did not force myself on to them, though was there with them in a friendly way. I came away feeling a little less like a failure. I really appreciated the comment in the article by Mike Meadon. "We respect him for what he does and how he does it."

People looking at me up front or mixing with people may think I am a "secure confident type." But in reality, I am so insecure and the up front stuff and mixing does not come easily. I am scared of rejection but have to keep putting myself "out there". It is an interesting journey.

Photo: "Stolen" from the online paper. From left... Paul Clements, Mike Meadon, me and Howard Weir. These three guys are respected fire fighters and I am privileged to know them.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The Paul Henry conflict...

We have a breakfast show host on NZ TV who has caused a stir here, because he passed racist comments about the Governor General. Our Governor General, while born and raised in NZ, is of Fijian Indian parents. I have met the man and seen him in action and have been very impressed with him. He could talk fluently in Maori, when responding to a Maori welcome he sang in Maori and he was genuine in his interest and conversation with people. Well Paul Henry the breakfast show host made some very racist comments about him. Here is part of a news item describing what he did...

On Monday's Breakfast show, Henry asked Prime Minister John Key whether Sir Anand, who was born and raised in New Zealand by his Fijian Indian parents, was "even a New Zealander?"

"Are you going to choose a New Zealander who looks and sounds like a New Zealander this time... Are we going to go for someone who is more like a New Zealander this time?"

I do not watch his show very often, but when I have I have not been impressed. He often ridicules people and displays a sense of humour that depends on putting people down. Healthy journalism does not do that. It may be controversial, but deals with issues. In this instance I think Paul Henry shows his immaturity and ignorance. The TV bosses at first rationalised his behaviour by saying that he just puts into words what everybody else silently thinks. That could be right, but that scares me also! The very fact that the more he does this sort of thing the more the ratings go up shows the level of thinking of many in our nation. I want to share three viewpoints on this.

First it would seem to me that we as a nation need to grow up. In this the twenty first century to have a leading TV presenter show this sort of racism is astounding. We are a multi cultural society. Many countries in this small world are. Kiwis are all sorts of shades and cultures and we should get used to it, accept it and even value it. We need to see ourselves as citizens of the world, and give up this "white-European-beer-drinking-rugby-loving" picture of the "average New Zealander".

Secondly, that sort of sensationalism may lift the ratings but is socially irresponsible. It would seem to me that the media has a social responsibility to lift the culture and thinking of the people. I see media's task as not just to entertain, but also because of their powerful influence in our society, they should inform responsibly, encourage thought and lift the sense of 'community' in our society. A presenter who just regurgitates the lowest, divisive thinking in a society is dragging the community down to his level, and not contributing responsibly toward a healthy community.

Thirdly, I am frustrated by the low level of "entertainment" on our screens. There seem to be endless low level "reality" shows. They may not be as bad as "Big Brother" type shows, but they rely on exposing and displaying people's lower natures often. We endure numerous CSI type program coming at crime fighting from various angles, and relying on ever more deviant scenarios to titillate the watching public. There are few serious in-depth documentary programs, where an issue is thought through in a meaningful fashion. When there are current affairs type programs they are often in short "sound-bites" that merely scratch the surface of the subject or often just repeat the headlines in different ways. It as if the TV bosses do not think that there are people "out there" who can concentrate for any longer than 5 - 10 minutes! Even on my yahoo/xtra home page, much of the news is gossip about some TV, movie or sports star, their appearance, indiscretions and sordid relationships. (when will we learn that outer beauty says little or nothing about what's on the inside)
While in the UK I watched some evening TV and enjoyed much more serious current affairs programs which really explored issues with sensitivity, balance and depth. (and often humour)

  • Please media bosses, there are some people "out there" who are prepared to think!
  • Please media bosses, think responsibly about the power and influence you have in our community, the opportunity you have to make a difference for good.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

A good time...

A bike ride from our place in Sawyers Bay through to Aromoana, at the head of Otago Harbour was a great experience. It was a lovely sunny day and I saw a photograph every few minutes. Swans on the harbour; lambs in the paddocks; a family of big native ducks... mum, dad and three ducklings; the rolling swell of the sea; the beach with evening sun glistening on the sand and sea; Wood pigeons giving me a fright as I rode under their tree; two fishing boats coming home through the heads and all the time the physical thrill of peddling and leaning around the windy, but picturesque road. I thought it was a pretty good buzz all around, a nice lead up to a sumptuous evening meal - just about as good as.... but maybe I'll check that out later.... I may be easily pleased, but this was just about as good as it gets. :-) I planted a row of potatoes for Christmas/New Year... that's my day off... back into it tomorrow, but what a great place to live!

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Careful or fearful people.

If I had an accident and the newspapers were reporting it would probably read, "An elderly man was.... " I am, to many people, old. But I know that there are many people old before their time because of the way they think. The story is told of two shoe salesmen. One of them was sent into a very rural area to sell shoes. He took a supply of shoes, got there and met the locals. He sent most of the shoes back to head office with a message saying, "It's no good ... nobody wears shoes around here!" A few months later the second shoe salesman went to the same area. After a brief time head office got a message with an order for more shoes with this message, "It's great! Nobody wears shoes around here!" In the same situation, one saw a brick wall, the other saw an opportunity. In every group I have been in I have encountered examples of the first salesman. "It can't be done!" "We've never done it that way before!" "We have already tried that!" "But what if..?" "Do we know how many? How much it will cost? What are the outcomes? What happens when...?" "You'll never be allowed to..." In my years of experience in the community and in the church I could tell you of many projects limited, or curtailed or halted altogether by such thinking.

There is a need in town for some sort of place where some of the vulnerable people who don't fit other groups can find support, advocacy and direction. A number of us have been exploring possibilities. We had an agency willing to supervise, administer and assist to find funding. But at several points along the journey various people slowed the progress. They wanted to "research it". They wanted all the "i's" dotted and "T's" crossed. They wanted to know all the answers, and have all the directions nailed down and defined. Well just when I thought we were making progress, we had some defining directions and worked through all questions, the all important agency that was offering to "umbrella" the whole thing spat the dummy, pulled out because "the window of opportunity for fundraising had gone"! They asked "Why has it taken so long?" Grrr... because of fearful/careful people!

The thing that annoys me is that the "careful/fearful" people will not really care about what is happening "on the street". Life will go on for them. They will not "see" the vulnerable people or feel their need. It feels like it is all about "management" for them, they do not seem really passionate about meeting the needs of people. They may even consider themselves the wise ones.

Now don't get me wrong. I am a fearful person. There are things I should have done but I have backed out of because I was afraid of failure. There are things I should have spoken up about and challenged people on, or change I should have pushed, but I have been fearful of rejection or conflict and have not proceeded. I guess as I get older I am becoming more impatient. I can see the end of my useful life approaching and I want to make up for lost time.

Today's Revised Common Lectionary set readings seem relevant. In Luke's Gospel Jesus says, "If you had faith as big as a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, 'Pull yourself up by the roots and plant yourself in the sea!' and it would happen." It was an expansive Semitic way of saying that faith makes the seemingly impossible, possible. In the second reading from 2 Timothy the writer says, "For the Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid: instead, his Spirit fills us with power, love and self-control." This is the experience of being filled with a passion to make a difference and the sense of trust that we are not alone in our efforts.

A couple of other quotes to add to the mix...
  • A risk free religion is no religion at all.
  • The only way one learns to trust is to trust.
  • Faith makes things possible, not easy.
Anyway this week I have been saddened by the negative impact that fearful/careful people can have.

The funny thing is I am saying to myself; "Well that's it. Without them the whole idea is shot. We can't do it!" But maybe I should be seeing this as a set back only. May be I am being the negative, fearful person now? I watched a U tube lecture called "The Last Lecture". In it Randy Pausch, who had terminal cancer presented a last lecture that was full of positive thoughts and wisdom. One of his statements was to the effect that "brick walls are only there to sort out those who don't want their dreams bad enough from those who do."

A Poem to finish with;
by Author Unknown

To laugh is to risk appearing the fool.
To weep is to risk appearing sentimental.
To reach for another is to risk involvement.
To expose your ideas, your dreams,
before a crowd is to risk their loss.
To love is to risk not being loved in return.
To live is to risk dying.
To believe is to risk despair.
To try is to risk failure.
But risks must be taken, because the
greatest hazard in life is to risk nothing.
The people who risk nothing, do nothing,
have nothing, are nothing.
They may avoid suffering and sorrow,
but they cannot learn, feel, change,
grow, love, live.
Chained by their attitudes they are slaves;
they have forfeited their freedom.
Only a person who risks is free.

Photo: A prayer we found in a chapel in a street front church in London. I loved this church developed in a street front house. The people who did it were prepared to rethink "church", to take a risk and were passionate enough to give it a go.