Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Christchurch again...

Day 1

I drove to Christchurch on Sunday night through heavy rain all the way, and am lodging at a Holiday Park in bunk rooms. (Unfortunately on the top bunk with a guy below who is the loudest snorer I have heard in my life! )

Today I was assigned team of about ten people. We were driven out to a suburb and we were paired off. Each pair went visiting houses, knocking on the door and asking the people inside how they were coping with things after the earthquake. We had lots of things we can offer them. It has been a truly good day. There are several things about it.

· The people we are working with are great. There are people from all over NZ and people from Australia. There are Salvation Army people and there are other denominations and no denomination. But we are doing serious work, but also having fun. There is a lot of joking, but when we are in contact with the people there is just love and care.

· I am impressed with the reaction we get. I am wearing a Salvation Army high viz vest. People see the Salvation Army shield and they respond with admiration, appreciation and a willingness to share.

· I am often frustrated with Churches which get into a whole lot of religious stuff. They get wrapped up in religious studies, worship and Church growth etc. But here I am working with a bunch of Christian people whose aim and purpose is to serve people. We stood and sang this morning “Brother Sister let me serve you” and it rang bells because the people were here to serve, to serve God and to serve people. It is really refreshing, here is “Church” as I dream of it.

· I am impressed with the logistics, administration and planning that has gone into the who process. There are the teams in the field. There are people in each team who resource the people doing the visiting. Then there are others who resource and help them. The whole process runs very smoothly but is still human and love based.

Of course it is only day one and I have four days to go, but so far it has been a great experience of doing something truly human, truly connecting with others and in an atmosphere of unity and love.

Day 2..

We had a very full day of sharing with people today. We of course were out pounding the footpaths and knocking on doors a lot earlier than yesterday so the day has seemed long. But once again it has been so rewarding. I share two visits;

We called on one lady we met her at the gate and she led us inside. She told us how her grandchild was killed in the quake, how her husband had a terminal illness and a whole host of woes. What do you say? We listened. We arranged for some support and a food parcel but we felt so sad for her and the burden she was carrying. It was a strange feeling. We went in and sat down and she told us her story, and stopped waiting for a response. We just looked at each other and both of us stammered something, not really knowing where to start.

The last visit for the day was an elderly man. I had peered over the high fence and saw him sitting in his backyard pulling copper wire out of appliances. (we were to learn he sold the copper to raise funds to visit his son in Australia.) We walked up to him and he cautiously accepted our greetings and approach. He was fearful of earthquakes but did not want counselling. I got on my hands and knees and the two of us listened as he told of illnesses, bereavements and hard times. He was angry at God who he was not sure he believed in and angry at Welfare, and had had lots of set backs. He wept as he told us but did not want to receive help. We listened, said we would come back with a food parcel. After a time we came back and knocked at his window. He let us in. We gave him food and four bottles of water. He beamed and thanked us. As we left he said, "And hey, may God go with you!" He was deeply lonely, I felt sad we had to leave, but he was a changed man when we left.

Day two over... time for rest.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Don't muck around, move on!

In Matthew 10:14 Jesus is reported as saying; "If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town."
I have always found this teaching awkward. It does not sound like Jesus. I have always "hung in there" and believed in persevering. I have believed in out-living and out-loving any opposition. I can understand the meaning behind the words. Essentially the message is, "There is an urgency and importance in the purposes of the Kingdom of God, don't muck about." I hear that but I have tended to hang in, compromise and cope with the tension of that compromise.

You tend to think you are here forever though, but you are not. I still feel relatively young and fit at 62. My dad, however, died at 49 years of age. I have high blood pressure, a prostate time bomb and possibly an enlarged heart. I am currently chaplain to St John and hear stories of (and sometimes see for myself) people my age and younger departing this life quite suddenly. In the light of my age, and the reality that I probably don't have heaps of years of real active living left, this teaching about the urgency of the purposes of God takes on new meaning. I am tending to look at the things I am doing and the things that happen in life and say, "I don't need this hassle at this stage of life! Time to move on." (I guess that was what happened with my involvement with Habitat for Humanity, an essentially good organisation that had made changes or did things in a way that frustrated me again and again - time to move on.) The reality is that life is a journey, things change. Organisations change, issues, people, friends, work - stuff you once thought important no longer has the same importance, and you have to move on. The move is often done reluctantly, often longing for the way it used to be but no longer is and often sad and hard to do. But the reality is life is not static.

In spite of my tendency to hang in there for long times, more and more as life gets shorter, I am feeling the need to "brush the dust off" and move on, rather than cope with things that frustrate, are no longer life-giving or hold me back.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

What a day...

Today could change my life. I still have a decision pending, but I took a step toward maybe being free of some responsibilities. Of course there have been some conversations and I need to follow through on those and do some thinking, but there is already a certain sense of relief.

I tried... This afternoon I visited the Immigration Department to try to find a way that a lady whose visa runs out in a few days could stay in the country and be employed by us. After running madly to the office we asked question after question. The lady behind the counter pushed a button and printed out the rules. She was very nice about it and quite sympathetic, but with each question she quoted the rule that basically said, "No!"

The two situations are similar. Both in the one causing me to rethink the responsibilities in my life, and in the Immigration Department there is an inflexibility of rules that say "this is how things are done and you can't do anything else." Like the primary school teacher who tells the child to colour between the lines... "don't go outside the line!" Somehow, then and now I find "the lines" too constrictive.

Watch this space. My life may change to being simpler and more focused, but the lady I am trying to help may unfortunately have her dreams squashed.

It has been a roller coaster of a day, I head to bed with my mind buzzing.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Race Relations day.

Today is Race Relations day. Officially it is called The International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination. It is held on March 21st because in 1960, 69 people were killed in Sharpeville in South Africa during what started out to be a peaceful protest. The theme for 2011 is "People in Harmony".

We in New Zealand pride ourselves on our race relations. We think we are pretty good. I think we have a long way to go. I am the father of two adopted Maori/Samoan boys and I have seen and heard of discrimination against them. I also hear some horrible viewpoints expressed against new immigrants amongst some of the people I mix with.

At our Church on Saturday night we hosted a Dunedin Multi-Ethnic Council/ Space2B family night to mark Race Relations Day. I simply include some photos of that event. We shared in a potluck meal with dishes from a number of countries. Many people wore national dress. Then we had some entertainment from a variety of countries. I wish I could pass on the atmosphere of the night. There was warmth, acceptance and fun. I felt like I had been to something sacred at the end of it. It felt like a loving space. At one stage a young woman playing a two string Chinese violin hit a few wrong notes. She faltered and stopped and said, "I am so nervous!" The response was warm applause and encouragement. You could see her relax, start up again and she played simply beautiful music! God was present, though not mentioned - it was a sacred night.
Too religious?
I watched quite a bit of the Civic Memorial service from Christchurch last Friday. There were many good things about it. I hope it encouraged people and gave them hope to move on. There is a big journey ahead. I did think though that it was too religious. They incorporated a whole lot of religions, but through it all belief in God was assumed. I thought that if I was not a believer I would not have been able to identify with much of the service. I also thought that there may be many who are confused, and if anything angry at God, and they may have been sitting there fuming. This was notable when the song "How Great Thou Art" was sung so beautifully. The song praises God for his marvelous creation, but it seemed ironical because that creation had risen up and bit them in the bum in a big way. Anyway, what did you think? Was it too religious for a civic service?

The week that was...

Animal madness..
Doing the goats feet was one of my jobs on Monday. You have to trim, clean and dose their hooves. The first thing you need to do is catch them. We have a doe and a wether, both are pretty big frisky animals, and goats have an ability to know just when to bolt. You think you are close enough and they make a dash for it, just beyond the reach of your arms. This time I was quite pleased, some goat nuts, some quiet animal whispering, a lasso and the corner of the paddock and I had the big wether tied up against the fence in no time. Turning to the doe we realised there was no issue there. She had stuck her head through the fence and got caught by her horns. She must have been there all night, by the markings on the ground. We left her there while we dealt to her feet then untangled her. Why did she put her head through the fence? The lush grass was on our side? Then we realised that there was a big old ram (sheep) on the other side. She must have been interested in him. It was obvious too that he had stayed with her all night! The ground on his side of the fence was well flattened and worn. We dubbed him "Cecil" and Cecil watched us tending to his "goat-girl-friend", and looked quite disappointed when she walked away stiffly after we freed her. What animals do for love!
Not as stupid as you think...
It was funny as I worked on the goats feet I found myself talking to them just like my Uncle used to do in the sheep yards when he checked sheep feet when I was a boy. (I used to catch the sheep and upend them for him) But just like him, I just chatted away to them softly, as I lifted each leg and dealt to it. They seemed to settle and know that I was helping them. It may sound mad, but I think it helps to chat to animals. They are not stupid.
I also fed the dog toward dinner time one day during the week. I was intrigued. He was barking wanting to be fed. I had begun to prepare my own meal, then with everything cooking I thought about him.... first things first you know! I opened the fridge door (something I had done several times) and got out his food. Immediately he stopped barking and knew his was on his way. How did he know? There were two closed doors and quite a distance between me and him, but I looked out and his tail was wagging, some how he just knew I was now looking after him. I quite like animals when I have the time to be with them.
It is funny the names you get called. My dad called me "Mick" all of the time. (I had big ears like Mickey Mouse) He only called me "David" when I was in big trouble. My big brother had skin rashes and was called "Flea bags" at school. I never had the rashes, but when I arrived at school, for a time I was called "Flea-bags 2"...that soon wore off. Of course with a name like "David Brown" I have been called "Tractor" where ever I have gone. At the Fire Station I have been dubbed, "Sky-pilot", "JC's helper", but most often I am known there as "Father Ted". I recall once a Fire Officer was introducing me to his daughter and completely forgot my real name, stammered a bit, apologised and said, "Damn it, this is Father Ted, our chaplain." In Christchurch after the quake I arrived at one building where search and rescue was happening. One of my firemen saw me and yelled, "Father Ted!"... everyone stared. There is a young lady linked to our church who often texts my wife. She never fails to say, "Say hi to 'Big Dave' for me." At my latest chaplaincy the other day I counted five people who greeted me as "Big guy". - "What's up big guy?" "Hi big guy". I suspect that might be becoming my nickname there. (Truly I am not that fat!")
Appreciate what you are good at...
Last Saturday night I went to a concert. For locals, the main entertainers were the OXO Cubans. It was a fun night. I really appreciated the talent of these musicians. Three of the guys could play several instruments and sing. They seemed to be able to swap around. I loved how they loved their music. ... I wish I could play music like that! I can't play any musical instrument, and while I can generally hold a tune, I easily go flat if someone sings parts beside me. I often wonder what my talent is? I'll let you know something I enjoyed, you may think it pathetic. Yesterday I got up and had a shower. The shower water limped out of the rose, and it was luke-warm going cold! We thought it was just gas bottles changing over until late in the afternoon my wife had a shower. She then recognised what I was grizzling about in the morning. Crescents, pliers, screw driver and the shower mixer was pulled to bits. "Now what can it be... yes the water comes in there... it is hot out of the bath tap.. so it must be between there and there... it must be this filter here... I'll clean that!" Put it all back together and we have a perfect shower. "Yes! Gee I'm good!" I LOVE that. Mechanical problem solving. "If that... then that... then if I do that... then this... yes! Fixed" I know that there are people too afraid to do such things, but I love doing that! And I am good at it. Appliances, cars, gadgets, hand tools and all manner of things have had new leases of life because of my problem solving skills. Not really as flash as the musicians, but that's one skill I enjoy having!
A different Church...
We have people come to our Church at Space2B. The Church open and hospitable to people at lunch times and on Wednesdays particularly open for new immigrants. I have come into our church building lately and there have been groups of people having coffee and talking. I was intrigued that some guys are bringing along home baked cookies to share with others. One brought apples he had picked from a friends tree to share with others. Another guy threw two boxes of tea bags at us. They are starting to "own" Space2B. I went in on Friday and quite a group was watching the memorial service from Christchurch on the big TV screen. Later I went past the Kitchen and a group were cooking pikelets for the drop-in centre later that night. It is a good feel. It is freely used by the Multi-ethnic council and Sustainability groups who see it as a bit of a base. Last night we had a race-relations day celebration in conjunction with the Multi-ethnic council which was a huge success with a great atmosphere. A different sort of open-to-the-community church base is happening and I like it. It is an evolving fulfillment of a dream I have.

- Sandwich Board inviting people into Space2B (A new one is being prepared)
- The relaxed area at the back of the Church where people seem to love to gather.
- A quiet time in our Friday night Drop-in Centre in the "Upper Room".

Friday, March 18, 2011

Broken dreams...

Many years ago I had a dark time in my life when a dream was trashed and I felt an absolute failure as a minister, as husband/father and as a person. During that time I found these lines. The bit of paper has been pinned to my noticeboard for about 24 years and has often inspired me to keep going. I read them when I came home from Drop-in centre on Friday night. I had watched the memorial service from Christchurch following the earthquake and the words seemed relevant.

One broken dream
is not the end of dreaming,
One shattered hope
is not the end of all;
beyond the storm and tempest,
stars are gleaming,
still build your castles,
though your castles fall.

Photos: - A man from Christchurch visiting Dunedin after the earthquake came to our "Space2B" during the week. He arranged with an old school friend to play the piano and violin together. The last time they had played together was when they were teenagers in the school orchestra. Part of the fulfillment of my dream for "Space2B".
- The tattered bit of paper which continues to inspire.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Good News.. great generosity!

I once got given an ornament with the word "Grumblebum" written across it. A friend was overseas, saw it and thought of me. I am often expressing grumpy thoughts. I thought I would make a change... today is good news and delight. My two bikes are worn and the chains slip on the cogs. You dare not try to stand up on the peddles while biking! Male bike riders will know that you can easily hurt sensitive parts of your anatomy when this happens. Often with the firefighters we are checking out each other's attempts to stay fit. I am asked regularly if I am still running or what I am doing. I mentioned that I had been bike riding to ease strain on my sore knee, but that my bikes were playing up. I mentioned that I had been pricing new bikes. I moved through to another room and was talking to another guy when one of the firefighters came through and said, "I have a bike you could have. It is my spare bike, but you could have it, it is a good solid bike." I said, "How much do you want for it?" "I am giving it to you!" he exclaimed. I picked it up last night and indeed it is a high quality mountain bike with indexed gearing and in good nick. I took it home and rode around a bit shaking my head. Such generosity blows me away. There are lovely people out there. I said to him, "What happens if your good bike craps out? You wont have a spare?" "Its a good excuse to buy an new bike." he grinned. "Its yours, I am happy its going to a home where it will be used and appreciated." As I loaded it on my bike rack I said, "I'll do you a favour sometime!" "You've already done a few of them." he said back, and waved goodbye.

Today it is raining and I am busy till late tonight. But tomorrow night there's a bike ride on the agenda. Isn't that generosity lovely?

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sunday anger...

Therapeutic Lament
A devotional book I received this week says this:
"Jews and Christians have a practice that provides therapy when storm clouds roll in and we're grieving loss beyond repair. The practice is called 'Lament'. To lament means to express sorrow or to mourn out loud. The practice of lament gives you time and permission to vent your pent-up anger, your deep sadness, and your self-blame. You allow yourself to grieve in a way that leads to healing and renewal. As you pour out your grief, you discover that God hears your cries of anguish and comforts you." Well God, and any other readers here comes my "lament" for today.
Sunday's Lament.
I have been the Workplace Support Chaplain at the Dunedin Fire Service for 17 years! In that time I have taken the funerals of several firefighters. I have led funerals for retired firemen, some I never met. I have buried firemen's mothers and fathers and one adult child. I have even taken a funeral for a neighbour of a firefighter. I have been celebrant for a number of weddings, firemen and firemen's children. When industrial strife was rife I heard their anger, got stuck in between the factions, tried desperately to support them. Over the years I have listened to a whole heap of heartbreaking stories, offered solace, support and a listening ear. I have visited fire stations faithfully twice a week all this time, often doing many more hours than I have been paid for. It has been a good but busy seventeen years that I have valued. But this weekend the Dunedin Brigade celebrated 150 years. ... no one thought to make sure I felt I could register for the celebration dinner. But the hardest thing has been that today they had a Church parade at First Church in Dunedin and I was not invited to participate! It is good enough for me to do all these ceremonies for them, but for some reason I am not good enough to lead or share in the leadership of their 150 year celebration Church parade! I am NOT impressed! I know that I am an above average preacher! I know that I do know how firefighters think, and could communicate well with them. Why was I not included? It has been an embarrassment to try to explain that to people who assumed I would be doing it. I am hurt, disappointed and angry. I am angry at the organisers. Even if they did not want me, you would have thought (being big brave fire fighters - yeah right!) they would have had the guts to come and explain why? I find myself with little respect for the way it was done and the people involved. I am angry at First Church leadership. Workplace Support is an ecumenical ministry and if the situation had been reversed I would have thought to invite some participation from the incumbent chaplain. (In my experience Presbyterians in Otago and Southland [NZ] tend to have an arrogance. While claiming an ecumenical mind set, subconsciously they think they are the only true Church, and everyone else is some sort of aberration.) Anyway, you get the picture, I am hurt, saddened and angry. (I have to cut back on my chaplaincy hours and I have been tempted to tell them to go to hell.) In my recent visits I have tried to avoid any reference to the Church Parade. In front of firemen I have hidden the anger I have, but it has been eating away at me.
But... the good news is...
I went to the fire stations on Friday for two hours of chaplaincy. In three hours I visited three fire stations. In each station I dropped easily into long in-depth personal conversation with quite a number of individuals. Of course I cannot tell you what they were about, but I came away feeling like I was doing an important job. I came away feeling the privilege of being allowed into the inner sanctum of people's lives and circumstances. I was moved by the way people said such things as "Hi Dave... " and so very easily shared their situations. I drove from the last fire station to the Church to share in our Friday night drop-in centre, as I stewed on the interactions of the last few hours I was challenged not to let my hurt and anger interfere with this important ministry I was involved in. The guts of my ministry was this week by week presence, listening and sharing. In the light of these deep experiences, some hurt on missing out on the "honour" of an hour in a church service was not worth jeopardizing some real powerful pastoral work. I am still saddened and annoyed, but I know there are more important things. ... On Saturday I went to the open day they had at the fire station with displays and things happening. There were present many retired fire fighters. I spent much of the time shaking hands enthusiastically and catching up with these guys. I was touched by the warmth of their reception and again and again I was asked if I was going to the dinner. It was evident I had been important to them. My weekly work is affirmed in the warmth of relationships, in the readiness to share and in the way I am included by the great majority of guys on the floor. I will suck up my hurt and anger, and continue to build relationships and minister constructively, in spite of what I consider to be thoughtless and ignorant decisions by a few.
In the light of the devastation in Christchurch, the grief of those who have lost loved ones and others losing so much, my lament over some personal slight pales into insignificance. In the light of the Japanese earthquake experience, it really is silly of me to mention this hurt.... 10,000 missing people, and absolute destruction.

See I am learning already.... even though I am a slow learner the practice of "Lament" is working.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

God and earthquakes.

In my morning newspaper (the Otago Daily Times) a columnist writes about God and earthquakes. He rubbishes belief in God and makes a plea for no religion wrapped up with civic ceremonies and state functions. Now I often appreciate what Joe Bennett has to say. I also have a tendency to say don't wrap religion in state civic ceremonies etc. also. I would say, if you do, do it in such a way that others can own it. e.g. When I take a wedding or funeral I often turn my prayers into affirmations and introduce them as an "affirmation or prayer" so that everyone can own what is going on. I think it is polite and respectful to do so. Actually from my point of view as a minister who has sometimes been forced into doing civic type religious bits, I would be happy not to have to do them. I don't like leading in "prayer" and have non-believing councillors dragging themselves to their feet, fiddling with pens and looking at the roof. I would rather not waste my breathe and my time frankly! (Even though I try to do it in a "universal inclusive" way, they hear or read "prayer" on the agenda and switch off already. ... ignorant sods!)

Anyway that is not what I want to blog about. Joe Bennett mocks Christianity saying that we believe in an omnipotent God and say we have a loving God. In the light of the earthquake that claims lives he says we cannot claim those two things. If he is omnipotent and caused or allowed the earthquake, (which caused so many deaths) he cannot be a loving God! He mocks us because we will pull out "the mysterious ways" clause in response to such a complaint. Now I agree with Joe, many Christians have this "old belief". It is easy to mock such a simplistic belief and, dare I say it, in simplistic terms with strong sounding arguments push it aside. But I want to say to him, get up to date! In 1981 a Jewish Rabbi, Harold Kushner wrote a book called "When bad things happen to good people". In it he unpacks the drama in the book of Job. In summary he says these things:

Everybody in the story wants to believe three things;
  1. God is all powerful and responsible for everything that happens.
  2. God is a just, kind and compassionate God
  3. Job is a good man.
In the story a friend questions number 3. Job questions number 2. Kushner out of his own experience of unfair loss and others' tough experiences in life, questions number 1. (God is all powerful and responsible for everything that happens.)

He concludes that God's power is limited - there are things God can't control. The laws of nature are amoral - they don't differentiate between good and bad.

The thing that gets me is that the "Joe Bennetts" of this world always argue with "popular, old time" religious concepts. They argue as if they are the only intelligent ones who are asking such questions. The author of Job in his "mythological drama" was asking such questions centuries ago. Kushner and other thinkers since then have held onto a concept of God or "the sacred" but have moved on from the old ideas that Bennett is referring to. Many believers have indeed moved past a literal understanding of the Bible! Many are finding new life in old words by looking at scripture with a metaphorical perspective in mind. There are exciting concepts and insights from thinkers like Marcus Borg, Karen Armstrong, Bishop John Spong and others. Have people like Bennett read any of these thinkers? Unfortunately many of the hymns, choruses and the liturgy of the church merely regurgitate these old concepts. Often too the real forward thinkers of the Church are gunned out of the church by lazy, weak clergy and laypeople whose minds do not like going out of their comfort zone. (Often at a "stage 2" level of a 5 stage picture of spiritual development - that style of thinking suits people who run institutions) They are often the people news media quote and allow to comment in their pages.

I am not really into defending God in the earthquake, I believe "He" can look after himself. In my concept of God, he did not cause the earthquake. There is an independence to nature and we humans are just one system among many. What I seek to do is give expression to "God" in the earthquake as many others, believers and non believers are doing. That's one reason I still am wrapped up in "God-bothering" because I see "him" in people, communities and movements. I am still growing and exploring in my concept of the mysterious, sacred reality that is a part of life. Throw out old concepts, but stay open to new ways of talking about the "sacred". Don't chuck "God-talk" out before you have caught up with other recent thinkers. You could be missing out on important aspects of life and reality. Never, though, think you have "Him" all worked out - as some Christians think they have.

Pictures: A friend of ours was visiting Italy and regions around there. She was being taken to historic Churches, with expansive, ornate decorations and interiors. A young man who was showing her around, knew that she was involved in Church life, so asked her, "Do you find God in these places?" He was expecting an affirmative reply... she was "religious" therefore religious places must be sacred for her. "Well actually no." she replied, scared that he would be offended since he was going to some lengths to show her the places. "Where DO you find God then?" he went on. "Well", she replied, "I find him in people and their relationships, love and personality." So my "pictures of God" are people holding hands.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Relieved dad.

Sometime ago a friend was once in my office when my son rang me from Christchurch. After the phone call my friend commented on the conversation. "That is such a male conversation! Short, businesslike and abbreviated but full of unexpressed love." I am not good at giving expression to the love I feel. I still wrestle with one of my boys and that's the way I say "hello it is good to see you." I worry about my kids (even as adults) and never find words to express that love. When we say our farewells, I choke up and say something stupid like, "Well - see ya!" Last night I had a phone conversation with son in Edinburgh which made me relieved and a bit proud. I will tell you some things about my kids lately.

Oldest daughter - I called her on the Wednesday I went up to do stuff in Christchurch. She works for the Dominican Sisters and had done a "mercy dash" to Christchurch to pick up an elderly sister and deliver her south in light of the quake. I rang her while she was still in Christchurch and asked if she could lead the Sunday service. She did and did so with such dignity and skill I was filled with pride. (Her husband, a teaching fellow at the University led some Ph.D. students as they presented a Science Magic show to raise funds for Christchurch. Somewhere between 700 and 800 people showed up, the show was a roaring success)
Oldest son - Is a very gifted arty crafty person who has done fashion and design course and designed and sold clothing. He also did a B.A. and has worked at TePapa museum preparing exhibitions. He now lives with his supportive wife on Waiheke Island in Auckland and gets work with people working in the art field. Yesterday he started study again for another year, completing an architectural drafting course. He is creative, a lateral thinker and forging an "original" path for his life. In temperament he is quite like me, a bit shy, hesitant to push himself forward and a wee bit cynical. I love his creativity, free thinking and originality.
Second son is the one whose wedding we attended in Poland. They have now moved to Edinburgh and are setting up home there. They have acquired a flat and we found out yesterday that he has a job. I am so relieved. I was worried that they might not be able to get a job there. He has an uncanny ability to get work, and every where he has worked his work has been appreciated and he is known as conscientious. His wife also looks like getting work in an area she is skilled in. They have done well and I am pleased.
Third son- Is weathering the earthquake in Christchurch. They moved back into their (rented) house on Monday, which was originally red stickered, but later OK'd. He and his partner were quite shaken by their experiences and his work needs a major rebuild. He has a very outgoing and friendly manner and remains positive. He is really thoughtful of others, has a great friendship with his lovely partner and is looking forward to the challenges ahead. He is great to be around and is the one I still wrestle when we meet.
Youngest daughter - we have a foster daughter who has severe intellectual handicaps. She lives in supported accommodation in town here. She has a lovely nature and has a special gift for smiles. Though she cannot speak at all she has taught me so much about life. Special moments in my life is sitting with her watching Muppet music shows holding her hand with her grinning from ear to ear and laughing. Or singing songs to her and her enjoyment of it... the only person in the world who enjoys my singing!

After last night's conversation, and being so pleased my son in Edinburgh seemed to be doing OK, I thought I would tell you of our family. I am not a very good dad, but in spite of all that they are good to be around, they get on well together and each is a creative and essentially good person.

Saturday, March 5, 2011

Sunday ambles..

I think my sore knee is coming right. Last Sunday I went for a jog/walk with my friend. During the week I biked into town and back. I went up my mountain (Mt Cargill) via the Organ Pipe track on Wednesday. Yesterday I enjoyed a walk up the mountain from Bethunes Gully, a much longer distance. We had our normal Sunday run tonight, a bit abbreviated, and my knee felt good and I felt good running. (Did not look good though, my friend took a photo of me from behind!) I think I may be able to run regularly again, I hope so.
"My" mountain...
I have had two walks up Mount Cargill this week. I am probably boring going up there all of the time. You may be saying to yourself, "Why doesn't he walk somewhere else?" I will at times but the mountain still works for me. I can walk what ever track I choose, the long one or short one and each is about 5 - 10 minutes in the car from where I live. It is easily accessible. But, and I am not sure how to explain this, it simply "does it" for me. On Wednesday evening I walked up beginning with "writers block" on a radio service I was preparing. I walked up with mixed up mind and heart after my Christchurch post-earthquake experience. By the time I had come down I had sorted the service and gone a long way to settling my head on the aftermath of the earthquake. Yesterday I walked the long way up, a consistent climb that has your heart rate thumping if you keep at it. It was an enjoyable challenge to keep pushing myself. When I reached the top and wandered around I was amazed by how much I enjoyed the familiar view. I watched a ship berth at the Dunedin wharf. I could see miles in every direction I looked. The view, no matter how familiar, still enthralls me. By the time I reached the car park again, I had sorted out my Sunday sermon. I encountered two dads taking their children up the Organ Pipe track to the top. I loved watching the kids enjoying the scenery and the triumph of having completed the walk. One little boy, with bare feet, grinned from ear to ear as he excitedly told me that he and his friend walked under "that big thing up there". (The radio mast) Ten out of ten to the dads for helping their kids enjoy such activity. Mount Cargill still works for me, it is good for body, mind and soul!
A lovely gesture...
I was intrigued when I visited my chaplaincy sites this week. At both the Fire Service and St John Ambulance, the rumour had spread that I had gone to Christchurch and spent time there. I was a bit like a Zombie early in the week, some one described me as "there but somehow not there... spaced out." One of the team leaders at St John talked with my wife when they saw each other at the emergency department at the hospital. He asked her how I was after my Christchurch experience. On Thursday he rang me and invited me to a coffee bar for coffee. "You are always there for us, someone should be there for you when you need it." he reasoned. He asked questions and listened. I loved the fact that he thought to do it, and I felt accepted and acknowledged through the whole experience.
Photo: I love the tree lined track and the little foot bridge as you come back into Bethunes Gully.
I don't have photos of Christchurch devastation be cause we decided that we were not there to "rubberneck", that it was somehow disrespectful to take photos. Also no photos could do justice to the sense of devastation there. You have to "be there".

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Earthquake makes me angry.

I am going to rant... sorry... it is partly catharsis and debriefing myself.
Angry at nature...
I went up my mountain tonight to try to make peace with nature. In my visit to Christchurch I saw and heard some of the bad stuff nature can do. In just a few days of exposure to the Christchurch scene I began to see the road, the hills the harbour in a different light, wondering what sort of damage they could do here. I love nature, but I saw that she can be nasty. I got to thinking about this. One nature lover in the house we stayed in near Christchurch had an interesting perspective. She asked, "How can they call it a 'natural disaster' when it is man made structures that fell and killed the people?" As I think about it we are very ego-centric as a species. We have this view that the world of nature is our play ground and we can live how we like in it. In so many ways we forget that there are other forms of life we have to adapt to. Human beings are just one life form, one system among many systems on this spinning ball. The ball itself has a "life" and behaviours, and perhaps we have not learned to adapt well to those. We some how think it is evil if the globe heaves and shakes a little, because it damages the way we live. May be the way we live demonstrates our unwillingness to fit into the world as it is. Should we crowd into cities? Should we, particularly in NZ where we know we get "big ones" from time to time, build multi storied buildings? Nature is not being evil, it is just doing its thing. We have not adapted properly to live within its limits. It is a powerful message. One man said to me, "My four year old thinks it is great pooing in a hole in the backyard, but for me the novelty is wearing off!" Here we are with our fantastic technology and amazing infrastructure and after a few seconds we are reduced to scrounging for water and pooing in holes. May be we are just too human centred in thinking we can live how we like on this globe.
I am angry at God... sort of.
Now I do not believe that God woke up and said, "I think we will have an earthquake in Christchurch today!" He did not decide to have the earthquake, it was a part of the natural processes. But if we adhere to the traditional understanding of God creating this world for us to live in, we could still blame him saying it is "faulty goods". If my brakes failed on a new car I would take it back to the maker and ask questions! If God made this world for us then it obviously has it's faults. Well that depends on your concept of God and I have been evolving a different concept of God. That thinking also is very human centred as if everything is for our benefit. Any way I am angry at God ... I think he doesn't mind and we'll work it out.
I am angry at people...
I spent four days in Christchurch, listening to people's stories, seeing the destruction, watching the attempts at rescue and recovery and feeling aftershocks. I come back down to Dunedin and struggle with people. People seem to consider themselves seismologists! They are prattling on about fault lines and earthquakes with a confidence even the best seismologists don't have. Everyone is an expert! Everyone is a knowledgeable engineer. People are once again pontificating about how they should build buildings, and what was wrong with those that fell and what "they" should have done. Everyone is a rescue and recovery expert. People pontificate what "they" should be doing and how "they" should go about their tasks. These are people who have not even been to Christchurch and seen what has happened. People love to pontificate and prattle! Then there is the other game. It is called "Who can tell the most exciting dramatic story about the quake?" It is participated in with glee. They love to recount exciting stories they have heard. It is a novelty. It is a bit of excitement and entertainment in their otherwise dull lives. Well it is not exciting standing in front of a building knowing that there are dead and/or dying people in there and feeling frustrated and helpless! It is not exciting when you hear of people who have lost nearly every material possession they have and the power to earn. It is not exciting hearing about little kids terrified every time a car or truck passes. It is not exciting people having to struggle to work out identities of the dead mutilated bodies. It is not exciting having to visit a man in hospital who is wounded himself and has lost his partner and little baby. The long haul that people will have to face to put their lives together, the patience the perseverance and tenacity they will need, is not a subject of titillation! Nor is it entertainment to call on a young woman with a crushed deformed leg. The quake is not a TV drama, it is not entertainment, it is a sad real life and not the subject of novelty conversations.
There really are times when people should just shut up and be silent. Better still possibly, shut up and listen with compassionate hearts.
I am finding it hard sitting in such rubbernecking conversations in Dunedin. I'd rather be in Christchurch doing something to help!

I am sorry I rant. I recognise in myself that I am in my way debriefing and clearing my brain. "PBP" - Please be patient!