Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Week's end waffle..

Rugby and over-rated sport
I ranted about the rugby world cup. I need to say that I am not anti-sport. It is a strange phenomenon that we tend to get carried away with our sporting teams. It happens all over the world. In the UK people get carried away with soccer, and there have been soccer hooligans and unsavoury behaviour.  Our local rugby team (the highlanders) changed the colours of the jerseys, from roughly blue and gold to almost a lime green. You should have heard the furore! It was like the end of the world! One man who overheard an argument in his workplace said to me, "They should visit Christchurch and talk to some of the people who have nearly lost everything. The colours of footballers jerseys really don't bloody matter!" Sport is artificial life. That is fine and it has its place. But I wonder if we get so wrapped up in artificial living (sport) because we have not got deep significance in our normal living.
Night Shelter
I am on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. It has been a long journey getting the shelter up and running. We have recently restructured and had to make two jobs redundant and hire a new person, because of financial constraints. We are reliant on grants and donations and we have to be as efficient as possible. There is not a great number of people using it but it feels like we should have a shelter available when it is needed. We have a street appeal coming up, I hope we get a good return. I have spent a few Saturday mornings working there tidying things up, and fixing things. I have an ongoing concern to keep us viable  and I wrack my brain for clarity about the way forward. ... then sometimes I ask, "Why should I care? Most of the people using it probably take it for granted. Some probably deserve to be on the street!" But something inside says, "There ought to be a place available." and I can't walk away. I have met some lovely people on the Trust, my life is enriched by their friendship.
I could lose a job!
I need to give up a chaplaincy to make more time in my life to do more church related stuff. That is going to be good but also difficult. I have also heard that another of my chaplaincies could be lost because of nationally based decisions. I could be made redundant! I think I will struggle with breaking the relationships I have in that workplace. I went there the other day knowing this though the locals did not know. I felt so sad as I went around talking to people. Wait and see, but if it happens I will miss their friendship.
I am lucky for friendships
I look back on my week and I am very fortunate. My life is full of friendly relationships. We have Muthiah who looks after Space2B. He is a lovely Indian man who is nice to be with. I have two lunch times with St John Ambulance people and go around fire stations regularly, along with my other two chaplaincies. I am met with friendship again and again. We have Curly and Margaret who join us in running the drop-in centre and there is always good humoured banter during the night. Robbie (He likes "Robert" better) is a drop-in guy who is around the church every Sunday to help out. He and I enjoy banter, but deep down we like and care about each other. At drop-in there are people we have known for years, and while some might see them as "clients" they are to me "friends".  (Jonathan, Saraya, Summer, Maurice, Jennifer, Glen, Honi, Mark, Bert, Ken, Terry, Nick etc. etc.) I open the door on a Friday night and I try to greet each by name as they come through the door. I try to say "goodbye, have a good week" to each as each leaves. (The "have a good week" is a prayer) We went to the Farmers' Market on Saturday morning. I parked in the yard at the Fire Station. When we got back to the car I saw a firefighter and slid into friendly conversation. We went to drive out of the gate and a big fire engine turned into it from out side, stopped and blocked our way. Four grinning fire fighters peered down at me. I wound down my window and some banter flew backwards and forwards, then with a good natured wave they drove the fire truck in and out of our way. Tonight I went for a walk with my running friend. We have run or, when necessary walked on a Sunday afternoon for an hour for several years. The conversation is catch up on our working weeks and mutually supportive listening. Another special friendship.  I am a lucky, lucky man - I have lots of friendly relationships.

- The view from our front door across the golf course on Monday morning.
- Another friend, Emi, (she comes from Hungary and calls me "dad") suggested that Space2B needed a coat rack. So I made one out of timber that came from a Church cupboard we pulled out.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Rugby costs too much!

I cannot believe that Dunedin has to pay money to host a World Cup Rugby games! The rate payer, now having to pay for an expensive temple to the game, and having to buy the one they don't want, has to contribute to having the Rugby World Cup games in the city. They will also have to foot the bill for the inevitable tidy up of copious drunken rugby fan celebrations happening in the city! Studies overseas show that big game contests in a city do not add much to the local economy anyway! Haven't we got the whole rugby world cup out of kilter? It is only a game! I am over it already! It is crap. In fact rugby as it is is turning this some time fan into a non-fan. Let me list off just some of the costs I perceive in our society.

  • Rugby injuries cost the country's health system heaps. Every Saturday there are emergency departments and emergency doctors coping with various injuries because of rugby. Not only these current injuries, but the ongoing impact of old injuries on old injured ex-players.
  • Rugby has with it a binge drinking culture. Rugby is often linked to breweries and alcohol associated sponsors. The binge drinking culture cost NZ heaps of pain, violence and health system costs. Any encouragement of binge drinking, like rugby events have is not what this country needs.
  • Rugby, as it is played also encourages violent attitudes and violent behaviour. It depicts the quality that men ought to be hard and unforgiving. That to be a man it is OK to live by the eye for and eye mentality. That we don't need in this country where violence and in particular domestic violence is so high.
We make a God out of rugby. It is only a game. I think if all the sums were added up in terms of economic cost to the country and emotional and cultural wellbeing, I suspect that our love of rugby is costing us too much.

I am over it! I give the fingers whenever the TV implores me to buy my ticket. When it suggests I will be part of "History in the making" I scream "Get real... it is only a game! Big kids playing." It is artificial life! And I think it costs too much!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Mustard seeds and statistics

Kingdom Parables
Lately the Sunday readings have been about Jesus' parables that start "The kingdom of heaven is like..."
We have had a sower sowing seeds in different soils.We have had the mysterious growth of wheat. Then there has been the wheat with weeds amongst it. There is the story of the mustard seed and the woman working yeast into bread dough. Each parable has its own message but there are a couple of things that have hit me.

  1. The Kingdom has an ordinariness about it. Wheat was just an ordinary crop. You till the soil, sow it, harvest it and then process it into flour. It was run-of-the-mill seasonal events. The mustard seed was an annoying weed bush, there were even laws about not planting it. Yeast was considered a symbol of that which is not pure - evil even. Working yeast into bread dough was women's work, lowly work by second-class citizens. Now if people dreamed of the kingdom of God similarities they would want to choose things like the mighty cedars of Lebanon, amazing beautiful flowering plants or some mighty powerful waterfall ... or anything "grand". But Jesus chose - duh - wheat, a weed and mould-like yeast. So ordinary!
  2. The second thing that hits me is the mysteriousness of the Kingdom. What on earth is the mysterious life force that makes a seed, or wheat grow? How on earth can a little bit of yeast make a difference to a big lump of dough? Mystery, unknown - even in today's world not fully comprehended, but grow it does!  
I got to thinking about this. How we like to align the kingdom with the flashy, big, super-seen-to-be-succesful, big name programs. We count statistics and have "how to" conferences, books etc. on mission etc. ... I am not sure that was Jesus' style. I think he even avoided getting hero worshipped. I got to thinking about the statistics I have to report on about chaplaincy. I have to report the numbers of "contacts made". I report the numbers of "people accessing the service". I report the general topics of the work conversations I have had. I am meant to report the topics of the conversations I have on personal issues, but I don't do that on principle. Now this is meant to convince the management that the chaplain is worth the money paid for his services. Such reporting defines what I do. Crap... Chaplaincy to me is not the special times when people come with "issues", the times when they "access the service". Chaplaincy lies in the "ordinary". I sit and eat my lunch and we compare sandwiches. I learn that they painted their fence on the weekend. I get told about the young guy's new smart phone and he shows me what it does. They sound off about the rugby. They grump about what is going wrong with their computer. I hear about their exercise programs. Someone shares a text joke they got on their phone. I listen to their frustration about the teenagers, or "the wife" or "that husband of mine". Most often they are not issues they are accessing the service about, they are just talking, sharing and most important of all, just "being" and being accepted. You can't make stats about that! It is just so ordinary, but I believe it is of love, of God and of the Kingdom. It is mysterious, because somehow when it happens, you can't explain it. but when you relate in love healing, growth and affirmation happen and people are just better off. At the drop-in centre we just relate in ordinary ways, but I believe love, healing and wholeness grow in the midst of offering people a sausage, playing pool and sitting yarning. Ordinary and mysterious... but not flashy, vain and plastic coated showmanship.
A different kind of "knowing"
I often struggle to put my experience of life, and particularly the inner-life, into words. Sometimes when I am reading a book I suddenly say to myself, "That is what I want to say! What a great way of putting it!" In my last post I made these statements; "I think too that when we have not given ourselves to his servant lifestyle, Jesus is just a vague belief in a metaphysical saviour, and not a dynamic-life-changing-life-enhancing-mentor and "presence".  He comes alive for us when we risk all..." and "It is easy to love in the ideal, much harder to love in reality.... but again, even with the difficulties, much more rewarding and fulfilling. When we do that one's "religion" becomes real."  I am reading a good book at the moment, The New Believers Re-imagining God by Rachael Kohn. In a chapter entitled Re-souling Psychology she is writing about Thomas Moore a former Catholic Monk turned psychotherapist. She writes: "Thomas Moore is urging his students and readers in a direction that is dynamic - he is saying there is a deep knowing in the doing, in  the loving and in the living. Self-understanding in a clinical sense is not a necessary condition for unconditional love - the chief expression of the soul - and may even stand in the way of it."  That is what I find. There is a deep knowing in the loving and living of the way of Jesus that is just so hard to communicate ... it is found in the doing. When I was young I bought self-understanding books and spiritual growth type books to try to make sure I knew myself. I figured I had to "get my shit together" (to use a modern phrase) before I could properly minister. But that is not how it happens. Somehow when you forget self and focus on the needs of others faith, "your shit" comes together - there is a deep knowing in the doing. Jesus said it too. "When you lose your life you find it." ... anyway it is a good book I am enjoying it.
Funeral cancelled... postponed!
In my weekend post I mentioned that I had a funeral on Monday. Well it turned out that it was cancelled!   No there was not a resurrection! The snow covered everything and transport to the funeral would have been tricky. The funeral director said, "We are not going anywhere!" The same time on Tuesday morning we held the funeral. That is the first time in my forty years of funeral conducting that a funeral has been postponed!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Sunday blog...

Funeral time again.
Tomorrow I have a funeral to lead. It is for the father of a guy in one of my chaplaincies. Some years ago I took his mother's funeral, now I continue to have this pastoral contact with this family. (Interestingly enough the man in my chaplaincy says he is an atheist... but still calls on me at a time like this.) Such is the privilege of chaplaincy and ministry. Because of various circumstances it is a little bit awkward but I no doubt will survive. I have done the first draft of the eulogy and am taking a break. (some might say "procrastinating" - putting off the final decisions about what to include and how to word it.) The other thing about it is that tomorrow is my wife's birthday and with it being our day off we were thinking of some special travel to celebrate... she was not too pleased when she learned of the funeral.
Violent deaths in Norway
My picture of peaceful Norway has been shattered with the terrible news of the massacres and bombings there. I understand that the man who did these things is an ex-soldier who had seen action. I am also saddened by the domestic violence and street violence that happens in beautiful NZ. I wonder why? In Norway I guess this soldier had been trained to kill, and who knows what the war service did to his brain and life. I also get concerned about the amount of and nature of violence on TV. It feels like there are more and more weird ways of killing people being shown for our gratification. I saw a documentary on how exposure to violence on TV screen impacts on the way little kids play with each other. I don't thing we "adult kids" are immune, and maybe, through our entertainment, we teach people unhealthy, destructive and tragic ways to deal with life and relationships.
Jesus' parables
In our Sunday readings we have been talking about some of Jesus' parables and the readings have Jesus frustrated with the fact that people are not "hearing" him.  I am a devoted follower of Jesus. (far from perfect I might add) The more I encounter life, reflect on society and the world, the more convinced I am that the ways and values of Jesus bring relevant hope and direction.  I find his way of life to be a challenge, constantly calling me out of my comfort zone to give myself in service. As difficult as it is, I am so grateful because his calling gives me a depth to life, stretches me as a person and shapes me into a better more whole person. Often over the 40 years I have been in ministry, as I have been preaching, particularly as I have got older and given more, I have looked out on the congregation and thought, "Most of you haven't a clue what I am talking about! You don't understand because you have not really begun to taste what discipleship means!" One man said once that many christians "Have just enough religion to make them miserable - not enough to make the happy.". Now it may sound judgmental, but often I suspect this is true, even for people who have been in Church for years. I think many are immune to the real Jesus, because they have a domesticated-easy-to-handle-church-focused Jesus. I think too that when we have not given ourselves to his servant lifestyle, Jesus is just a vague belief in a metaphysical saviour, and not a dynamic-life-changing-life-enhancing-mentor and "presence".  He comes alive for us when we risk all, and I would suggest most church goers have not risked much. I am saddened by that, because ultimately they miss out. But I do find it difficult to really communicate with them. Often I feel like I am just a good entertainer for an hour.
"I love mankind"
I recall a Charlie Brown cartoon that goes like this. Charlie declares he wants to be a counsellor. Lucy says, "You can't be a counsellor, you don't love mankind!" (sexist language) Charlie yells at her,  "I do so love mankind! It is people I can't stand!"  In Churches I often see a lot of "loving mankind", but often little true involvement with people. A Church I know had a service all about volunteers in the community. Great stuff. But I have been mailing that Church for years wanting volunteers for Habitat for Humanity and for the Night Shelter and have had no response. There are desperate needs amongst people in Dunedin Streets, but so many churches sit around doing their weekly religious bits absorbing funds and space. I thought of this with the Christchurch earthquake. Churches rushed to hold memorial services and light candles, but how many of their number went to Christchurch and got involved with people! I recall some time ago sharing with a Christian man the difficulties I was having in coping with the behaviour of one of our drop-in centre guys, and how it challenges one's wisdom and patience to be as accepting and loving as Jesus calls us to be. He came back with something like, "Oh yes, but we are called to love them unconditionally." I wanted to scream, "That's bloody easy when the totality of your involvement with them amounts to occasionally praying for them in the pew on Sunday!" It is easy to love in the ideal, much harder to love in reality.... but again, even with the difficulties, much more rewarding and fulfilling. When we do that one's "religion" becomes real. There's a lot of "loving mankind", not so much real loving involvement with people.
Snow in Dunedin today... I hope I can get to the funeral tomorrow morning. 
Photo: Our road at lunch time today.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Free at last!

I enjoy people.
I left the office just after 6 p.m. tonight. I had a "people" day. I had a meeting with a woman this morning who is going through an interesting time in her life. We got a way off the subject of our meeting and started talking faith, life's journey and our frustrations with "Church". I appreciated talking with someone with similar perspectives as I have. This afternoon I went to two chaplaincies. At the first there were no real deep conversations but there was just good fun conversation and friendship. At the second I was intrigued how several individuals just conversed naturally about events in their life in a relaxed way as if they were talking to a friend.  While it might be said that I am sharing love by listening, there is a certain gift of grace I am receiving as these people let me into their lives. I value this gift immensely.  
Free at last.
Just after 6 p.m. I left the office and came home. As I wandered around the kitchen wondering what I could graze on my wife said, "Well I sent the final cheque away." "What final cheque?" I quizzed. "The final cheque paying off our mortgage!" ... We had talked about this. It is a good feeling.
I turned to a discoloured card hanging on the wall and grinned. "Now we can throw you out!"  In 1968 (before we were married) we put a deposit and acquired a mortgage on our first house on Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. That was when we acquired that card. We then trained for the ministry and for a time rented that house out. We sold it to help finance our setting up home in a church manse in Palmerston North. We put a deposit on another cottage in Fielding which we rented out, but never really made money on it.  We sold that and bought a house and acre of ground in a country village. It was a run down house most people would bulldoze, it did not cost much, but I remember walking around the acre thinking, "This is mine! The government can stuff the economy up, but I still have a house and an acre of ground I can use!" We moved a little reluctantly down to Dunedin and after a failed project put a deposit down on this house. The deposit came from selling some shares a man in my student church congregation had given us. Around 23 years later we paid our last cheque. It is not very flash, but it has an acre of ground, a creek running through it, and now it is ours. I was down the back feeding the hens and looking at our vege garden yesterday and started dreaming. Maybe in a few years I will have more time to enjoy this, by then it really will be mine and we can do a self-sufficiency thing on it. I have never and will never earn big money. (I discovered a "technician" - glorified labourer - at the brewery received a bigger wage than I do!) We are not good at saving and we tend to use our money regularly in ministry, but that's OK.  It is nice to be free of a mortgage though. It will bring added temptation though. I will have more money each week to waste?  I have often thought I could get an easier job for less money if I didn't have a mortgage... may be I'll be tempted to in my down times?

I think though I am really hooked into some form of working with people, with my personal base being Jesus. For a shy guy I really love connecting with people, and being a "Jesus representative" doing it.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Monday mumblings...

Goodbye European cars
Today I cleaned out two cars which have become too expensive to keep going with a warrant of fitness. They are to be sold for car parts. They really don't owe us anything, particularly the little Fiat. It was my wife's car and has provided transport for young people, older folks and food for drop-in centre and Habitat for Humanity building sites. Both will be picked up by their new owner in the next day or two.

My Mountain and fitness

Dave Brown says to his mountain: "Gidday old friend, it is good to see you again. It has been quite awhile. ... me? .... I have been too busy to visit lately... sorry. I always see you in the distance from just about anywhere in Dunedin. I look and ache to visit, but it has not happened.... just too busy... But it is so so good to be here today. I promise to visit more frequently. I need to, it is good for my body and soul."  I got to go up my mountain today. Perhaps I am getting old, but there are very few sensations better than walking in NZ bush, particularly breaking out of the bush from time to time to look at expansive scenery. Today I walked late in the day too, so the sun was setting making fascinating light shows in the bush. I did notice, however, that the walk was not as easy as it used to be. I was breathing harder. I have not been exercising as much as I normally do, and already I feel the consequences. I still think I am fitter than most 62 year olds, but not as fit as I am used to. I worked at the night shelter on Saturday sometimes lifting awkward heavy things. When I got home my muscles ached. I soon came right, but I realised again I was not as strong as I used to be. Even though I have a sensitive knee I need to find ways to exercise.  It will happen, I am not ready to get old yet.

Technique verses love.
My mind wandered on to this subject today. When I was at theological college we had homiletics classes, that is learning how to preach. In our third year we got to preach to each other and invited guests. We had one guy preach one night, it was a work of art. His voice was not monotone, he raised his voice, he lowered it to a whisper. He used silences and pauses to give impact. He sped up and he slowed down. He gestured flamboyantly. ... We had to give feed back and at first we struggled. It was an eloquent presentation but somehow it missed the mark. He was so concentrating on his technique he lost that sense of connectedness and rapport with his audience. He was not communicating.  He could have been doing it in front of a mirror. He wasn't "loving" us as his congregation. 
Over the years I have heard many people read the scriptures in Church. There have been a few who have had elocution lessons. They will read with all sorts of correct expression. They have spoken clearly. They have emphasized words correctly. They have paused, projected their voices and done everything right. ... but often this has been distracting rather than adding to the communication. Then I have heard bad readers who, because of their "couldn't care less" attitude have almost been blasphemous as they have dawdled their way through their reading. Then I have heard people who have believed the message they were reading and had a deep loving passion to pass it on. Their technique may not have been perfect but as they have read they have somehow, passed on love.... in the way they have read they have  loved the message and loved the congregation. There is a difference.  
I recall watching a colleague working with people. this person had all sorts of creative things to get the people involved in. They had skills to work with these people. But somehow I had an uneasy feeling. Over the weeks they had to keep asking me the names of the people they were working with? Why? .... Quite simply they were not forgetting themselves and loving the people. They were rapt up in their techniques.
A friend had some issues he needed a counsellor for. He told me of one he tried. He said of the counsellor that he may have asked all the right questions, but "He just didn't seem interested in me. It felt like he just wanted to get through the session." 
I have been involved in training for trauma debrief groups and for running groups. As I have thought about it and led groups, I keep finding that it all depends on my willingness to give myself to the people involved in listening and sharing. The times I am distracted or too self absorbed to care, go badly. It depends on LOVE, listening, questioning and attending with a genuine love.

 Love of technique, skill, methods can never replace love for people.

Thats what I have been stewing on as I have enjoyed my day off.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Nice place to live.

Driving home from my walk yesterday I went "over the hill" to Sawyers Bay.  I drive this route at least twice a week and never cease to enjoy the view of the harbour on Junction Road. There are worse places in the world to live! Otago Harbour views help you switch off from city life.

Sunday night stuff

I have a Peugeot which I bought nearly a year ago. It was a mistake. I thought I had checked it out thoroughly but discovered that it had a smokey engine. Six months ago I got a warrant of fitness for it. (a six monthly chore if you own a car in NZ) A few months ago I had it serviced and things dealt to, so it stopped covering cars behind me in blue smoke. I took it for a warrant on Monday quite confident it would pass. To my surprise it was turned down on a few small things, but it was mainly rejected because of it's smokey engine. It was certainly blowing less smoke than it was at the last warrant? The receptionist said, "The mechanic reckoned it isn't worth fixing!"  I was so annoyed. I was annoyed at myself for buying a dud almost a year ago. I was annoyed because it really is a good car with a good body, tidy interior and drives nicely and probably has lots of life in it yet. Now "the system" (regulated by people who have a vested interest in getting older cars off the road!) consigns it to the scrap heap. Anyway my Monday turned out to be depressing because of this. We told my daughter about this and she informed me that at her work they were selling two cars and we might like to look at them. I suspected they were probably going to be too expensive, but thought we'd look anyway. The first we looked at was a good wee car. My daughter asked her superiors about a price which turned out to be very cheap. So we purchased a very tidy low milage 1996 Toyota Starlet that runs very nicely. (I think my daughter's work were feeling generous toward us.... I am grateful) I am pleased we now have a more familiar vehicle, more economical and more environmentally friendly. Sorry Peugeot.
"JC's helper" fire fighter retires... he is a theological "problem".
On Friday night I went to our drop-in centre as usual, stayed about a half hour then went to the fire station. Two guys were leaving and the social club were putting on a farewell "do" for them. I spent about an hour there, got given a beer, listened to the farewell speeches and went back to Drop-in. One of the guys leaving was the guy who gave me the name for this blog. He is an ex- seaman and is nicknamed "Bosun". He is the firefighter who called me "JC's helper".  He is a theological problem. You see when I was a boy or teenager he is the typical guy that I as a "good little christian" was warned about. He can tell the dirtiest stories you imagine. His language was not the most genteel, but I like him. He is simply a nice guy. He gave us a computer for a children's program we were running. He has helped at our Christmas dinner. He has always been hospitable toward this minister at the fire station. He has caught fish to give us and his wife baked a cake for us.  As they gave their farewell speeches they talked of his conscientious work. They spoke of his enthusiasm for the job that had lasted 41 years. They told of his honesty and his positive nature, his readiness to go the second mile and his morale boosting sense of humour.  The theological problem I have is that I was told that people like him are heathens, unsaved and not nice people to hang around with. Yet I find Christian graces being expressed in him. I find him expressing more warmth, more friendship and love of life than some of the righteous saints who would condemn him.  Often the various religions are too worried about defining who is "in" or "out".  I don't think God is confined to only those who congregate.
Fuse Problems...
At our drop-in centre Friday week ago we blew a fuse. We were playing pool, table tennis, drinking hot drinks and talking when suddenly some lights went out and heaters went off. It was near the end of the night and difficult to diagnose with others using the building, so we left it to the next morning to fix. I was working at the night shelter yesterday and once again discovered a blown fuse. I found some thin wire and put it in so that we could operate. Today after Church I went back with some real fuse wire and  fixed it properly. I got to thinking about these fuses. When the electrical load gets too great the fuse blows and you know that there is an overload problem some where. The fuse blows and you go look for the problem. Wouldn't it be handy to have a fuse in our systems that blows when we get overloaded? If I take on too much, and life is on overload it would be quite good if there was a fuse wire that would signal "overload". Of course there are "fuse wires". Health goes down hill. Blood pressure goes up. Sleep goes out the window. These can be life threatening things and can be discovered too late. It would be good if there was a little light fuse wire that just let you know before things got bad.  When do you know that you are trying to do too much? Sometimes I think I have taken on too much, but then I think maybe I am just being lazy? I know people who can get through heaps of stuff. A fuse giving a definitive answer would be nice!  When/if I get to heaven I will have to talk to the creator about this deficiency.

That's me for this Sunday.
Photos: A seat on my walk this afternoon and the new addition to the stable.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I love my job!

I am stressed in my job. I am often frustrated in my job. If you have read this blog often you would have seen my cathartic outbursts. Before I go to bed tonight I just want to report, "I love my job." Today was an "ordinary" day, I worked my way through it. I had a Night Shelter meeting to attend at 5:30 p.m. I had been to St John Ambulance and sat talking to people. I talked with some of the guys who call into Space2B at the Church during lunch time. At 3 p.m. I went to the fire stations. It was there that I was reminded why I love this job. I had three in depth conversations. They were deepish conversations that you would have with a close friend. They were the icing on the cake, because they reminded me that I was welcomed by the different people I had talked with during the whole day. When I arrived at the fire station as I walked down the yard various guys yelled out, "Hi Father Ted!" in the warmest way. I was late to the Night Shelter meeting because I was reluctant to end my last conversation. It was warm with a deep sense of two friends journeying through life. Even at the night shelter meeting here was not just another committee, but a group of like minded friends who work toward a common purpose.  Tonight, at least, I love my job. It feels like a privileged position.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Yeah - I'm "different".

A good friend who is Catholic texted me saying, "Nice photo of u @ pentecost svs!" I didn't have a clue what he was talking about until another good Catholic friend from Central Otago emailed me a page from the "Tablet", the local Catholic paper. The subject line of his email read, "Cross dressers" and he began his email saying, "At least one guy looked dressed!" At ecumenical ceremonies I feel quite out of it, like a pimple on a face, but I am happy.... A robe is not "me".
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Saturday, July 9, 2011

Values.... sex and money and "building houses".

After the horse has bolted...
One of the things that breaks my heart is that I often talk with people who have got themselves in a bit of a mess. They tell me the story and I listen lovingly, but I find myself saying in my mind, "How bloody stupid! Why did you make that choice or those choices? Anyone can see that would lead to trouble!" I often think of the values that lead to people making disastrous choices and think, "They ought to know better?" The impatient side of me says, "Why the hell should I feel sorry for you?" In some cases even I am deeply disappointed. They have been around me for years, I have been their minister but none of what I live for and preach seems to have rubbed off.  I often wish I could have intervened earlier, before things got messy. Often when people get around to talking with someone in my position the horse has bolted long ago. There are often distortions in values that lead to problems. I want to share a couple.
Sex and money.
I have not done it, but if I were to go through all the troubles I have heard people get into a pickle over, I think a high proportion of contributing factors to the problems would be distorted values over sex and money.
First let me think about sex. I am probably going to sound like an old fashion Bible bashing wowser, but again and again as I have listened to people's predicament I have thought of saying, "You shouldn't have 'dipped your wick' so easily!" I recall a very earthy farmer coming to me in a small farming village where we lived, asking me about problems various people in the area had, and if I could recommend counsellors or others who could help? As he left he turned and said to me, "My old father had a bit of advice which these people we've been talking about should have listened to." He went on, "When I left home to work elsewhere, and again when I got married my old dad took me aside and said, 'Son remember this, keep it in your pants!' "  Then he went on, "If these people we have been talking about had heard and heeded such advice they would not be in the shit now!" He was right! Now let me tell you I love sex. (even at my age!) While I did not have sex before marriage, I am not one to scream and yell and thump the pulpit about "no sex before marriage", and say that if you do "you are evil". But I do think it is wise to recognise that for the sake of happiness, sex must go together with some level of relational intimacy and depth. In this day and age we think we are all grown up and we can have casual sex or imbibe easily and early in a relationship without it hurting us. But in my listening to hurt people and stuffed up lives, again and again I find myself thinking, "If only you had 'kept it in your pants' " or "If only you had waited a while longer it wouldn't hurt this much now!" While I might not want us to go back to stifling Victorian perspectives, there was some truth in them.  I have the book "The Joy of sex" by Alex Comfort. In it he is talking about contraception, and how irresponsible it is to bring unwanted children into the world. Its a long time since I read it but I recall he said, "If you can't discuss contraception freely, perhaps you should ask yourself, should we be having sex in the first place?" Even this very liberal book on sexual matters recognises that some level of intimacy of relationship should go along with having sex. (I think to have mutually great sex, it helps if the couple have a deep level and a freedom of relational intimacy.) The apostle Paul wrote, "... the man who joins himself to a prostitute becomes physically one with her. The scripture says quite plainly, 'The two will become one body' " Now I don't think I would thump the table on this as much as Paul, but in my experience I think that having sex with another adds a different dimension to the relationship, which without a deeper relational intimacy can make things more complicated. In spite of the modern messages that say casual sex is OK, I encounter so many hurting and stuffed up lives because of it.
Money or material wealth... or "Looking wealthy."
Now even  more  insidious and dangerous than casual sex is people's love of money and their need to look materially wealthy. I see this again and again. I have seen families divided over money and inheritances. I have seen married couples ruining their relationship together by claiming individual money and competing over money. There are beneficiaries and families spending money they can ill afford on cars and phones just so that they look wealthy. There are people living under all sorts of stress because they buy houses for status and not necessarily within their price range. One man said to me recently that he felt imprisoned in a job he hated because he was so much in debt. There are people enslaved by big loans that cover things they could happily live without. One New Testament writer said; For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. He was right. We fall for the big assumption that money is the be-all and end of life. It is preached to us every time we open up our computers, turn on TV or read our news paper. But money/wealth does not make the person. It does not bring happiness. It is often that illusive happiness that disappears when we try to grasp it. Money does not bring fulfillment. Some one has written that our society is a bit like a shop where some vandal has got in and changed the price tags. The things that are truly valuable, are marked down as cheap; the things that ultimately are not worth much are tagged as valuable. We constantly pierce ourselves with griefs" and this malady is of epidemic proportions in our society.  
Building Houses?
I was thinking about these things and in particular some people I had listened to this week. In frustration and sadness I asked my wife out loud, "What would Jesus say? What would Jesus do?"  As I pondered that it struck me. I think he would tell a story. Here is the one I think he might just tell, with deep sadness in his voice;

"All those who listen to my words and do something about them are like a wise man who builds his house on a rock. The man laid a strong foundation by digging deep into the earth. Then he worked carefully and slowly making sure the building was strong and secure on the rock. And then the rains and floods came and the wind blew hard and beat against the house. But the house did not fall because it was built on a strong foundation.
But the person who hears my words and does nothing with them is like a stupid or foolish man who built his house on the sand. This man did not build a strong deep foundation and built his house very quickly. His tall house was built fast and he moved in feeling safe. Soon the rains and floods came and the wind blew beating against the house. The tall house without a strong foundation just couldn't stand up to the flooding and winds and it cracked and the whole house collapsed."
The crowds were surprised at Jesus' story. Jesus warned them that if the people did not build their life on a deep foundation and follow his teachings then they too would find that their house had fallen down.

Now I am not one to shout, "You can only be saved in Jesus Christ!" but he does teach and show basic eternal values that we ignore at our peril. If our lives, if our society and our world ignore these values, we ultimately increase our own misery.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Love and stuff.

The Apostle Paul wrote these words in Romans 12.

9Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; 10love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. 11Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. 12Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. 13Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. 14Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. 15Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. 16Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. 17Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. 18If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. .............. 21Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good. 

What is genuine love? I am basically a shy person who does not find it easy to meet new people. I do that in my job, but I am super sensitive to how people react to me. When I decided to train for ministry people were quite sure I was not really cut out for the job, but here I am forty years later still in the job.  Theologians are quick to point out that the love that Jesus commanded was not the "feeling" sort of love, but a love that is first and foremost "willed". But Paul says, "Let love be genuine".  One of the surprising things I find is that I actually love people! I am not always good at expressing that love, but I do deeply feel for and with people. "Fred" was the tipsy guy in Drop-in centre last week. He was in a way a nuisance disturbing the peace, but I really really ached for him. The town drunk we'll call here "Jill", wants a hug from me and I hug her. My hugs, to my surprise, are a genuine expression of affection. I was talking to a very attractive lady who had difficult decisions to make. I could sense she was aching inside, and all I wanted to do was to give her a hug! (Which I dare not do because it would be interpreted in the wrong way) I ached with her about her predicament. I see people saying stupid things, making silly decisions and under the power of addictions or others expectations and I genuinely feel sorry for them. I see people whose actions I loathe, but I still feel for them as a person, and I grieve that they distort their lives in the way they do. I am genuinely sad for them, even though I loathe their behaviour. You see as this shy guy shares with people, I actually do "weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice." And I am sorry theologians, but it is not so much a "willed" love, but a deep current of feeling that makes me want to do things to help these people.

This surprises me, because as a sort of insecure young person, I naturally tended to be selfish and not expose myself to others. I would say that as a young man I was not a person that could be described as "loving". Maybe even now, I am not good at expressing the love I feel. But somewhere along the way there has been some sort of inner spiritual transplant that causes me to feel deeply about the people I encounter. This feeling helps me to overcome some of my timidness. It also gives me a weird sense of connection to the "sacred", I sense that I join "him" in the loving journey. It comes from deep within, but somehow is not "me", but something - some one - bigger than me that possesses me.

I am sure that some people think that I am stupidly naive - that I have rose tinted glasses and just see the good in people. Some think that I do not know when people are ripping me off or pulling the wool over my eyes. People also think that I am too soft on people, that their predicament is their fault and that they should be left to sort themselves out. (People have implied such things in comments made to me.) I have been around people long enough to know that we all are a mixture of bad and good. I am not naive or soft, I know perhaps more than most the ugly side of people. I certainly see the destruction that evil causes. When I was a little boy I remember reading a book entitled "Give a dog a bad name." It was a book about a little boy who befriended a wild dog. The villagers all said this dog was bad and chased it if they saw it. This boy believed that the dog was not as bad as the villagers made out, his theory was that because they chased the dog and saw it as bad, it sometimes snarled at them - treat it right, see it as good and it will be good. So I believe that focusing on the bad in people only makes them bad. They live up to or down to people's expectations.  If I can love them in spite of the bad, maybe they will become more loving. I am not stupidly blind to the bad, (And I have met some real bastards) but choose not to let it determine my feelings toward my brother or sister. To my surprise I find I really love some bad buggers. 

It is a strange, mystifying yet deeply gratifying experience. Me, Dave Brown, a mixed up twit, with all sorts of dysfunctional parts to me, actually genuinely loves people! Amazing! Miracles happen! I am pleased because it enriches my life so much!

I waffle and burble, but its me trying to express that which cannot be expressed. Amazing Grace!

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Catching up.

Busier & busier.
With telling strange stories from my past it is some time since I really shared. Life seems to be getting busier and busier. Without my going looking for it, every part of my life (Church, chaplaincies, Night Shelter etc.) seems to have additional extras hitting me. Each day never seems to have enough hours in it, I often work late at night, and am often lying awake stewing on tasks unfinished. While I am coping, there are times when I feel a bit stretched.
Night Shelter
I am on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. Because of funding constraints we have been going through a series of restructuring meetings. This has involved extra meetings and also some different experiences. As deputy chair I went along as support for the chairman when we met with staff essentially making them redundant. I was also involved in the interview process for the new appointment. It has been quite a learning curve and been a little bit sad and stressful. Normally as a Workplace chaplain I am wrist rubbing people who face redundancy, not making people redundant.
I visit four work places every week, and three of the four have "stuff" happening. The Brewery has changes because of Christchurch earthquakes. Again I have had to take on board some of the pain of people having to change and having to make decisions. There are so many new people down from Christchurch that at times it feels like a new chaplaincy. I am pleased that people talk, even though it involves extra time and stress.
National leaders visit
Two representatives of our denomination's national leadership group came for a visit to see where we are at and to try to encourage us to go to a convention. They are on a different wavelength than where I am at, so I was a little stressed about their visit. As it turned out things were kept at a fairly light level and it was a reasonable meeting. I appreciated their determination to visit, since the ash cloud prevented their first arranged visit. But I am (and can't help but being) "different" than where they are at.
A good book
I have read a book by Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan on the Apostle Paul. (The First Paul) It is a good book, helping me to put Paul's writings in context and understand them better. I will be referring to it again and again in my sermon preparation I am sure. One thing they point out is the movement within the New Testament that "domesticates" the Way of Jesus and of the radical Paul. There are genuine letters of Paul. There are letters, attributed to Paul, which most scholars agree are not from his hand. And there are letters whose authorship are disputed and questioned. The Borg & Crossan go through such subjects as slavery, equality of the sexes, and relationship to governing authorities and they show how in genuine Paul letters there is radical teaching which slowly gets more conformed to cultural norms as you go from genuine letters, to disputed letters to those later ones which are definitely not Paul's. I think this process always goes on within the church. Jesus is modified so that we can handle him. Anyway, I commend the book.
Drop-in story... "I just wanna be loved"
We run a drop-in centre on Friday nights. Lately we have been getting about 50 through. Mental health patients, unemployed, people with addictions and others. We have run it since 1995, and it is still worth having in my view. One of our regulars in his 40's came in on Friday night with a few beers in. He has been deaf most of his life, so is hard to understand. Early in the night my wife went up to him and offered him food, encouraging him to quieten down a bit. He grinned, said, "Yes" then putting his arms around her shoulders and gave her a tender kiss on her forehead. It was quite cute. A little later on he was upset and he ushered me behind a curtain to talk in private. He pulled out a plate out of his mouth and showed me how the two front teeth it was holding had broken off. He was sure it had happened in the drop-in.  Almost sobbing he said, "They cost a lot! - 800 bucks!" rubbing his fingers together like he had notes in his hand. Then he said something very sad. "Look at me?" pointing to his mouth with gaps where teeth should be, "I look funny! - All I want is someone to love me! - they won't now!"  A little later as he was leaving he thought someone said something insulting to him, he spun around and with fist clenched strode toward them yelling. My wife calmly stepped in front of him and like a mother calmed him down. He will be back this week apologising. It reminded me of another drop in guy who said to me once, "I just want a girlfriend. Why can't I get a girlfriend?" We have a notorious lady who comes who is often drunk and sometimes smelling. Lately whenever she comes, she will stand in front of me, and insist on a hug sometime during the night! I do like her. I find, though they are very different from me, I feel deeply about my Friday night friends.
Why am I different?
The National leaders talk statistics and want me to go to a convention where I'll learn about "reaching people", "adding to your church". I get copious leaflets, letters and posters inviting me to attend such seminars. (The cynic in me wonders if some people are not making big money out of running conventions for insecure pastors .... they often cost a lot to attend!) I have other ministers, both liberal and conservative, who I talk with who are wrapped up in "growing the Church" and the church "establishment."  I ask myself, why do I feel out of step and not in tune with these guys and this emphasis? Is it that I am trying to rationalise the fact that my church is not bursting at the seams? Am I theologising my failure? I don't think so. I just think differently. I worked it out that I ask different questions. They ask, "How can we grow the church?" My prior question is, "What does it mean to be a community of followers of Jesus today? How do we give a true expression of the faith?" They see God's Kingdom as fairly closely allied with the church. I see the movement of God, the kingdom of God, the forcefield of God in the world, in people, groups and society and even in other spiritualities. They feel called to the Church. I feel called to Dunedin, with the Church as a base for ministry in the city. They see Jesus as the Son of God who came to start a new and true religion. I see Jesus as a God-person, a God filled Jewish person who had a sense of call to make the faith real for people, and connect them to the love at the heart of the universe, and therefore with each other. ... I am just different, bouncing from different starting points. Maybe I am wrong. Maybe I should not be a minister within the church, I push the boundaries of orthodoxy? I cannot be anywhere else though.
I have not been running or biking regularly. My knee is playing up and does not want to come right. (Though I notice improvements - it is not "grating" as it used to do.) My running friend, for different reasons also has an injured knee. Our once a week runs are now a walk up to and around a city reservoir and back down the hill. (see the panorama photos she took and made up) I also went to the specialist at the hospital about my prostate. I will spare you the details of the tests (not a fun pastime) but to my surprise the doctor turned out to be a delightful young asian lady doing these very un-delightful things to me! She was comfortable with my condition but booked a biopsy for sometime in the future.
I have this dream of my down town church building being a centre for a lot of life-enhancing things happening in it and around it. That is a part of what I call "Space2B"... my dream for the church. We had a political hopeful call on Saturday night. (We had a multi-cultural mid-winter potluck tea and short concert) He is a candidate in a fairly safe seat in the next parliamentary elections to be held later in the year. He introduced himself and said, "I hear this place is a hub for a lot of things happening around it. Is that right?" I grinned - he had described my dream.  I replied, "Yes, that's where we are headed, we have a way to go, but that's what we want to happen." I was pleased with that feedback. If he's hearing that, maybe we're headed in the right direction.

Life's an interesting journey and that has been my path lately. Journey well whoever and where ever you are.  - God is in you and among you.

Photos: Taken by Jane

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Keeping junk pays off!

We were browsing in a secondhand store this morning. There we found a door and window set for nearly $300 that could replace a non-sliding door in our house. We took measurements and found it was about 20ml too big all around - it could be made to fit? Should we buy it? It would be quite a bit of work? We looked at the current sliding (non-sliding) door more closely. How does it work? Why does it not work? We found plastic rollers worn out. The screws to get at the rollers also would not work. Thinking!.... thinking! .... thinking! "I reckon old skateboard wheel bearings might fit in that groove! Where can we find some?" Dig around in son's old box of junk... "Darn! I know I threw a box of old skateboard stuff out in the last tidy up! - Here's one! ... it fits!"
I showed it to my wife who then disappeared. She reappeared with four more wheel bearings. With CRC to loosen them up, a lot of grunting to fit them in place, we now have a sliding door which actually slides freely! Like wow! Being a hoarder is not all bad. Saved $300 and a lot of work!