Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, August 29, 2011

The Spiritual journey...

Be honest now... should you be a minister David?
I recall many years ago attending an ecumenical church service. I was there on the platform as one of the line up of inner-city ministers. (Probably the only one without a robe) I think I may have been reading the scriptures in the service or something like that. Anyway as part of the service we were asked to stand and repeat the Apostles Creed, fortunately printed in the order of service. I began the creed but trailed off. "I really don't believe all this!" I said to myself.  This creed in this service was meant to express the unity of the faith we churches held together, but I was standing on the platform as a minister and leader and could not honestly repeat the creed. (I am glad the Churches of Christ have a slogan "No creed but Christ!") As I stood there I began to wonder if I should be a Church minister after all, if the creed was the accepted formulation of the faith.  As I took my seat I looked at the creed and began to wonder if Jesus would say it. I don't think he would! As I read the creed, I really don't think he would see these "beliefs" as all that important to walking with God. The creed says nothing about "Love." It says nothing about the "Kingdom of God" and God's purposes. It seemed to me that the things the creed featured would just not be a priority to Jesus...on that basis I figured I could stay in ministry. This experience highlights two things on the "spiritual journey." One is that we need to be honest with ourselves. (Though to be in any church will always involve mature compromise)  The second thing is "perspective." It is easy to get carried away with relatively unimportant side issues. Jesus' way provides us with a way we can check out if the things we are concerned about and wrapped up in are really important.
It is interesting that many of the books that highlight progressive thinking in the area of religion, feature honesty in the title or in the general thrust of the book.  Albert Schweitzer's "The Quest of the historical Jesus" was an early attempt to be honest about the scriptures. "Honest to God" by John A T Robinson was one of the first books of this genre.  "Honest to Jesus" is a book by Jesus seminar scholar Robert Funk. Bishop John Spong has a book called "Here I stand" which details his journey from a fundamentalist faith toward progressive Christianity. As he tells the story of the journey he shows how his honesty led him to make adjustments to his understanding of God, the faith, the scriptures and the Church. Marcus Borg has three similar books ("Meeting Jesus again for the first time",  "The God we never knew" and "Reading the Bible Again for the first time" ) each of which outlines how the various aspects of traditional faith had stopped making sense to him. When he approached the Bible with a different perspective, then he honestly could own his faith again. It is important that we face our uncertainties, particularly if they are important, and work our way through them so that whatever faith we end up with we can "own" and give ourselves to. Someone has said that at any point "we can offer what we know of ourselves to what we know of God in what we know of life, but these three things are always changing." Our faith is a journey and if we are honest with ourselves, it will change and evolve. Sometimes we are lazy and cling to a Sunday School faith, but become essentially secular in our actions and lifestyle because it really does not ring bells for us in real life. When we front up to the Church subculture or other things religious, it is OK, but in the real world it has stopped resourcing our living. I urge you, for your own sake in the Christian journey, to be honest with yourself.
Perspective and priority
I had a man corner me a couple of times. He was sure that there were codes and all sorts of arithmetical secrets in the Bible. He had charts and codes and all sorts of writings. I lost interest, because it just did not seem that it would be a priority that Jesus would have. Another man knew in detail the dimensions and ins and outs of the Tabernacle and wanted to run bible study groups to explore such things. Others try to work out prophecy (interpreting it badly) and dates for the second coming. Each felt he was being spiritual, religious and doing God's will. But when I look at Jesus, it would seem to me to be religious hocus pocus. Jesus told the parable of the sheep and the goats and a priority for him was caring for others in various ways. He answered the question about "what must I do to gain eternal life" in part by telling the story of the "Good Samaritan." For him loving action was the important spiritual response. The Apostle Paul in the "Love chapter" said we can be and do and know all sorts of religious things, but if we have not love, we are nothing. As I grow spiritually, may these priorities keep me thinking about and tackling the important issues. May I not get side tracked into theological gymnastics that are just an escape from loving action. There is a type of "knowing" that only happens in action. Faith that sidelines loving action is not consistent with the way of Jesus.

I am a heretic if the creed is a measuring stick. Why, then am I still a church minister? I am first and foremost a follower of Jesus. The Church, with all it's distortions, is the place where the story of Jesus is still kept alive and, hopefully, modeled.  I am a minister in an attempt to get others to share in Jesus' actions and love. I am a minister because the Church can be a base for loving deeds in the community. If the Church belief system does not fit that then heaven help us, the church would really be irrelevant.

Photo: An old man on a journey.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

"I can't do it!" and "Want to grow spiritually? Become an atheist!" ???

"I can't do it any more!"
This week has been full on. I have had a couple of 1 a.m. mornings trying to get things done. I have spent a lot of time relating with people, in chaplaincies, in Space2B and in other places. It is interesting that just sometimes you get the feeling enough is enough. On Saturday I spent the morning working on the News Letter and church service preparation. Then I wanted to go and visit an elderly lady I had hoped to visit on Friday, as well as catch up on a man in hospital. I showered and changed into presentable clothing, then hopped in the car and drove to her house. I went to the door and rang the bell several times but nobody answered. Frustrated, I left there and drove toward the hospital. I found that I was going to have to park some distance away, but really felt tired and not full of energy. Very quickly I decided just to return home. As I drove home I thought about it, and discovered that my major hinderance was not physical, but my emotional or inner well-being. I had just had enough of "putting myself out there." I did not want to face another bunch of people. If I went to the hospital he may have had all sorts of people visiting. I would have to meet and mingle with new people, and to be honest I did not have the inner reserves to do that. I drove home, took my books and computer to bed, had a nap then worked on the Sunday service. This morning as I did some photo-copying and the final power points in the office before Church I had a similar sense of dread. The photo copier was not doing as it should, and I found myself at one stage bent over the machine saying, "I can't keep doing this! I can't keep doing this!"  I straightened up, calmed down and problem solved my way through the photo copy issues. Then I finished the power points and went through every aspect of the service with those involved with computer and sound system. Then I "took a moment" and sat alone gathering the strength to go out and do it again. Feed back suggests that I did well and the service flowed, made sense and drew people together in an encouraging way.  I will enjoy my day off tomorrow though. I hope my week ahead is lighter, though I do have my final visit to St John Ambulance as a Workplace Chaplain.
Become an atheist!
I  often wish people would become an atheist for a while.  Now that sounds strange coming from a church minister. As I look back on my own life I have had to become an "atheist" in relation to some of the concepts of God I have worshipped. As I think about my spiritual journey my concept of God has changed. I have had to discard old concepts before I can move on to new ones. But for God to continue to be "real" in my living, I have had to make these transitions.
For example; I have discarded the God who is like a puppeteer in the sky controlling when people die, when storms or earthquakes happen. I had to discard stories of faith that had been told to me in my childhood to get rid of that God that my mind could no longer sustain. For example "God made the sea calm at Dunkirk."  But that sort of God raises questions, conflicts and contradictions that I could no longer ignore. I had to discard him and rethink "God" for him to be real. Another concept of God I have discarded is the God who would consign whole populations of people to a place named "hell" because they did not hold the correct beliefs or fulfill the right religious rites. My mind and heart can no longer believe that. For me to move on with God, I have had to discard that God, i.e. become an atheist in relation to that and once again rethink "God."
Now sometimes we are scared to let go of these old concepts of God. It is too scary. We will bury or repress our unease and questions, sometimes in religious activity and cliches. We hang on tenaciously to old concepts, even though deep down we are not trusting them. They feel more comfortable! The new is unchartered territory. We may become unpopular with religious people. It is like a trapeze artist. He has to let go of one bar, so that he can reach out to grab the new one swinging in his direction.  Will he be brave enough to let go? Will he have enough faith to reach out for the new? Or will he hold on grimly to the bar he has and just keep swinging where he is? This is, for me, the nature of the spiritual journey.

The ever upward journey of faith
Why do I feel so different?
With two years to go until retirement, I have been throwing questions around in my mind. Will I continue in ministry after retirement? I am feeling the weight of being "up front" and "out there" now, will I want to continue when I don't really have to? The other question is that my ministry and the "church" that is evolving is very different than the conventional church. Who would they get to replace me? Who could fit in? Will it all be lost? The third question is where would I go to Church? I would find it very difficult to find a church that comes near to expressing my understanding of the faith. I think I would be deeply frustrated if I went to any. Of course there are "liberal-minded" ministers, but there are few who are engaged with the community as we are.  I don't fancy just sitting around discussing theory.  I guess I will have to wait and see. There's a fourth question... why am I so "different"? Am I right in my thinking? Am I "off the wall"? ... but I cannot be anywhere else at the moment.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Work, work and more work!

The porridge was good!
In my Sunday post I mentioned that I was alone in the house for a few days. Well my wife has returned and the kitchen was in one piece, the washing machine still worked and I am sure I have put on weight from the massive meals I cooked. I am pleased to report that the porridge I learned to cook  (well it's not that hard- put rolled oats in pot, put in water and bring to boil, simmer and serve) was beautiful. (I tend to have a little bit of porridge with my brown suger) I had difficulty with quanitities in all my meals, over estimating each time, but is that a fault? The only domestic issue I had was that I washed my PJ's and I think I left a paper tissue in the pocket. Little bits of white paper stuck to everything in the wash.  Back to civilised eating and not sleeping diagonally across the bed.
I HATE electric car windows!
Every car I have had with electric windows has caused problems. On Tuesday night my driver's window in Wanda (Nissan Bluebird) came out of its clamps and dropped to the bottom of the door. I had to get a lead lamp out, my tools and strip the car door in the dark. I glued stuff back together and everything works fine. I did not eat dinner till after 9 p.m. and then typed up a sermon for our Church blog. I got to bed at 1a.m.!
Valiant Volunteers! 
On Wednesday night I went to the township of Otematata. They had a tragedy where the volunteer fire fighters turned up to a car accident and the deceased person was one of their own. The guy's father was driving the fire truck. I went with two other guys to run a debrief. I always get nervous about these, but it went well. One of the "gifts" I have is that I can generally facilitate a group well. I take my hat off to these volunteers in these small towns. They do a great job and are often exposed to difficult situations where they know the victims. It was a privilege to share with them. We drove there and back (Over 400k return trip) in a fireservice kingcab ute. I don't think they were designed for passengers for a long trip, it was not comfortable. We got home at midnight. The fire service got 8 hours of my time for nothing! I hope it is appreciated. Another 1 a.m. bed time.

 A full day.
It is now 6 p.m. on Thursday. I started the day with a 9-10 supervision. I spent two hours at the Brewery. I spent one hour at Space2B, half an hour at an Elders' meeting and three hours at the Newspaper chaplaincy. A full day of relating. Tonight I will work on Sunday's service after tea. I look back on my day and ask myself if I have been efficient in the use of my time? I think I have. There have been no slots when I have just done nothing, the only "breaks" were when I was walking between chaplaincies and Church. I even ate my lunch while relating to guests at Space2B.
Sad thoughts
I love the work that St John Ambulance does. I enjoy the company of the paramedics, the mechanics, the office staff. As the time gets closer for me to finish my chaplaincy there I feel more sad about it. I think the care of "the troops" will not be as good, but just personally, I will miss the contact with these people I have come to admire and enjoy over the last 14 years. Tomorrow will be my second last visit there as their Workplace Support Chaplain. 

Monday, August 22, 2011

"For the love of money..."

"Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." So said Jesus and I try, I really do, to heed that advice. I have taught a "simple lifestyle" as being better for us, fairer for the community and easier on the environment, but I do get carried away with money at times. One of the reasons I got down on Friday was that I slipped into "covetousness". Money has that tendency to drag you down.

Some time ago I thought I had won something like $165,000 (NZ). I received in the mail a sort of prospectus leaflet from "Evason Holiday Group". I wondered why I received it but just assumed they thought I would have money to invest. There was a couple of scratchy tickets where you could win prizes in the Evason Holiday Group lottery. It was my day off, it was morning tea so I scratched the tickets. One came up as having won the third prize... US$130,000 ... not bad! I rang the number and eventually got in touch with a man in Malaysia. He told me to scan the ticket through to him. I did this and then he told me I had indeed won third prize. But when he asked if I wanted to put it into my investment account with them it all unravelled. I told him I did not have an account, the other option was a mail order to my bank, but he still needed my investment account number. He stammered a bit and said he would have to look into it. When next we were in touch he told me I was not meant to receive that mailing and would I scan the envelope through. This I did and that is the last thing I heard from him.
Now I don't know if it was some kind of scam or not, I was not impressed because I think some people could have got themselves in trouble having been told they had won that amount. It would be fair to say we were always a bit skeptical going by the proverb, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." But we got to dreaming a little. Maybe we'd get the car all fixed up? We would pay off the mortgage and invest for retirement. It would help our bank balance considerably. We started coveting this money we did not deserve. It is funny the power that money has to take over your thinking, but I do know many people who have stuffed up their happiness, their life, their relationships because of this power of money.

On Friday it happened to me a little bit. I learned that a guy doing security work at a nightclub was getting paid more per hour than I get paid for chaplaincy work.  I learned that a brewery worker, a "technician" (perhaps a grade up from a labourer) was earning way more than me per year. I learned that a fire fighter, with thirteen weeks training, quite a great lifestyle with heaps of days off, generally earns nearly twice the amount I earn with their allowances and overtime. (And I know they are not overworked!) "Here am I" I complained to myself, "Six years tertiary education, heaps of experience, on call 24/7 and working big hours with essentially one day off a week!" ... gripe, gripe, gripe....  I got myself feeling sorry for myself. Undervalued, unsupported, treated badly etc.  .... but ... I have never starved! I have indeed paid off my house. Even if I could buy a new car I would have it looking old in six months. I am really quite rich in many aspects of my life and Jesus is right that "one's life does not consist in the abundance of possessions." I was only hurting my own mental well being by groveling in covetous thoughts.  I am well off and have nothing to complain about. The writer of Timothy was right when he said,"For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil, and in their eagerness to be rich some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pains." The Bible has heaps of warnings about the power of money and covetous thoughts to cause trouble in your life. Jesus says according to Matthew's gospel, "No one can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth."

I write this blog to remind myself of these important values. If I remember, I will be happier.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Phew.... week over!

Alone in the house..
When you have been married forty two years it does not happen often. I remember staying with a recently widowed lady years ago. She had a funny relationship with her late husband. They were often heard yelling at each other. You would think they hated each other, but strangely enough as we sat watching TV one night she poured out her heart. She hated being alone. She said that if something happened on TV she used to turn to Bill and they would laugh together or talk about the program. If something happened when she fed the chooks she would tell him about it (often yelling I suspect) Now she said she really missed these small bits of conversation. She said she found herself still turning to Bill's chair and go to say something and realise again he was not there. Currently I am enjoying my freedom, I have country and western music blasting on the stereo, a beer beside me and the TV off. Already though I miss that extra person. I met a friend of my son's this afternoon. I forgot his name and wanted to ask my wife but she's not here. I bumped into someone at the supermarket, but I had nobody to tell about it when I got home. My wife has driven to Christchurch to support my son who is going through a tough time. She hopes also to catch up on her brother who is not doing too well, and maybe my sister whose husband is battling cancer. Does anyone know how to cook porridge? I'll find out tomorrow morning no doubt. I'll let you know how it turns out.
A funny week...
I have a stress test questionaire. It asks you what has happened to you over the last months and estimates the kind of stress you are under. It's main point is that stress acumulates, it can be a whole heap of little things that slowly build up. Here are some things I have encountered during the week. A minister rang me early on Tuesday morning and asked if I could take his turn doing a radio service this week. I agreed to but it put extra pressure me. I have heard about a number sad illnesses. My brother-in-law has a bad prognosis. I am in my final two weeks of being chaplain at St John Ambulance and I am sad about that.  The fire fighters are on strike and a bit grumpy and some jobs are to be disestablished there. I put a lot of effort into Sunday mornings and wonder if it is all worth it. I never got to do all the chaplaincy hours that I should have and was disappointed with what I didn't get done. On Friday everything caught up on me a bit. I was in the office and heading out to have morning tea with a man. I rushed into the toilet and as I was pulling my pants down my phone pouch leapt off my belt and went splash into the toilet. I fished it out and found it still worked. ...I eventually pulled it to bits and dried it on a heater.  The day did not improve much. It seemed to be filled with sad conversations. At about 2p.m. I was photocopying stuff when the machine said it was out of toner. I tried filling it with toner but it didn't work. I tried all sorts of things, wasting valuable time and was getting so frustrated that I let fly with my boot at it. At that stage I thought it best to get out of the office and go round the fire stations. (I texted my daughter who got the service agent to come and sort it out) At the fire stations I got some disappointing news about a firefighter and also learned that I need to go to a rural fire station this week to run a debrief after a very tragic event. It was all too much, I had had enough!  I felt alone and undervalued. Accumulated stress had hit me. I just wanted to go home and even drove nearly home, but turned around and came back to do my duty at the drop-in centre. At first I hid at the sink doing dishes and mixing drink. But I gradually emerged and shared with the people. I played games of table tennis, I joked and talked and ran a guy home. As I forgot my own woes and gave myself to others my depression eased and I went home tired, but at peace.  This week will be better.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Catharsis about the St John Ambulance decision.

I have been confined indoors all day by the snow falling outside, so I have taken the opportunity to do some cleaning up of my study at home. While I have been doing that I found myself stewing on the decision by St John Ambulance at a national level to do away with on site chaplaincy. I have known about this for some time and had thought I was accepting it.

 I read an article today that made the point that no job these days can be seen as permanent. The article said that the nature of the employment scene these days was that you had to recognise that any job is temporary, change happens so fast. This highlights the need to be flexible and seize retraining opportunities. So I accept that losing the job is just a part of life and anyway it is only 2 hours a week (Well... I was there for much longer) and not my full time job. Many these days lose their main source of income, I really cannot growl.

I think the thing that is getting to me is the loss of relationships. I have shared lunches twice a week with this group of people since 1998 or 99 (not sure when I started) and had heaps of conversations. I will miss the contact after August finishes when I am not allowed to visit any more.  The other thing that sort of hurts is that I believe the service I offer is better than the alternative. Nostalgically I look back on the times I have had and the things I have done and think, "I bet the new people wouldn't do that!" Here are a few....

  • I had a call from a colleague of a one of the staff. He knew that his mate was at home struggling in his marriage relationship. "They are in a mess" he said, "Would you visit now?" I said "Yes" and spent the afternoon with the couple as they talked, wept and unloaded with me as a third person. We made plans for the way ahead. Will the new group respond like that?
  • I was asked by a manager if I would go to the hospital emergency department and support the wife of a rural manager who had been brought in after suffering a stroke. The rural manager had to return the ambulance home and come back to Dunedin. For three hours I sat with her in the emergency department, chatting, supporting and encouraging her. I doubt the new support service would do that.
  • One man rang me on my day off and asked to see me. His sister was in the hospice, would I visit her and would I conduct her funeral. I was intensely busy at the time but this I did. 
  • I got a phone call from a policeman at the police station once. One of the staff was down there and stressed out. I spent two to three hours sitting in an interview room with him supporting him, as police sorted out what turned out to be false charges against him.
  • I have taken weddings for a number of the staff and their families, for no charge. I have taken funerals for fathers, mothers and other relatives, again for no extra charge.
  • One Saturday I was preparing to take a wedding for the sister of a staff member when I got a desperate phone call. A staff member was in a bad way, life was all going wrong. Could I do something. I rang our Workplace CEO and arranged for her to go out that afternoon to give  supportive counselling. I rang one person involved in the situation and talked with them. Then rushed off to take the wedding, stopping briefly to farewell my son and daughter in law who were going off to live in Edinburgh.
  • I have spent hours, a lot longer than my contracted hours, listening and interacting as the staff have let off steam about jobs they had been on, the bosses, life in general and often personal situations they were facing.
I could list off heaps of such things. This is my job. I am not boasting. But the on site chaplaincy is a very good service. It is somewhere between constant supportive friendship and professional support. It is a christian ministry and so it goes "the second mile".  It has people talking through stuff informally before the "molehills become mountains." The people have someone "walking beside them".  I do wonder if we charge too much per hour for the service? I would do it for nothing. I think I have the training and skills where I could have been used more fully by St John.  But I would love to list off all these sorts of things I have done to St John HR people at a national level and shout at them, "I bet your new support service will NOT do these things! Damn you for stopping me from continuing this ministry!" Anyway, that's my rant for tonight. I will cope with saying goodbye, and accept it with professional behaviour, but just now I am a bit p'd off about it.  

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Just some pics...

Its my day off but there is snow all around so I will not be going anywhere. Light a fire and do stuff around  here. Maybe my study will get tidied.

A week of collecting money

This week has been very busy.... well every week is busy, but this week we have had an appeal for raising money for the Night Shelter. I have been a part of that, delivering buckets to collectors, sometimes collecting myself and having two stints of counting the money.  In between times I have been fitting in my usual work and chaplaincies. I thought tonight I would share a few stories from my time holding a bucket and looking eagerly at people, hoping they would put money in my bucket.
Mum -son encounter.
I spent an hour standing in a centre city mall area near the ramp which led people out of the supermarket. A man I recognised as a salesman in a hardware store kept staring down the ramp. It must have been his day off. He explained to me that he was waiting for his elderly mum, who he said was relatively frail. I noticed him sitting and waiting for a while. Then he would come across and look again. He went out to the car park just in case she was there, but came back and sat in a nearby seat. A small frail looking elderly woman came up the ramp and stopped to fish out some change to put in my bucket. She kept digging in her purse and then I realised this man was staring over my shoulder. "Not too much mum!" he said. "Don't give them too much! It is only old loser alcoholics that use the shelter!" She glared at her son. I glared at her son. "Am I being a bit redneck in my view?" he said to me. "Well" I said, "I think so... " then I told him of a case where a "normal" person needed a bed. His mother was still fishing for cash. She eyeballed him, raised her finger toward him, "We could all end up in trouble and need help." she said, wagging her finger, "You are just lucky you are where you are at!" "OK" the man said, "Lets get going." The mum put her coins in the bucket, nodded at me and followed her son away.
Warm reward..
On Saturday morning I collected at the local Farmers' market. We began at 8 a.m. on a very frosty morning that stayed cold. You do not realise how cold you get till you stand in one place for a few hours. After about a half hour a woman walked past me, nodded a greeting and went her way. "No money from her", I registered. I could smell the lovely hot snacks being prepared behind me. After a few minutes I was surprised when a hand seemed to come from behind and insert coins in my bucket. It was this woman. "... and..." she said as she reached to counter of the snack bar and presented a tray of snacks in front of me, "Take one, you deserve it." she said. I took one, thanked her very much and she went on her way. Later in the morning another woman arrived to give me money with a paper towel holding one of the snacks. People are nice.
Foot in Mouth times two!
A woman came up to me and began to ask about the night shelter and could she come and have a look some time. She asked about all sorts of things and we talked about the plight of people in the streets and mental health patients etc. I wondered as I responded to her questions why she was taking such an interest. I asked her, "What do you do?" There was a brief silence. "Oh I am Claire Curren the South Dunedin member of parliament!" Immediately I knew why she was familiar. I felt so foolish. I was up at another super-market in the afternoon and a man walked up to me. He put money in and said, "I would like to get hold of your chairman. Can you help me with that?" I thought about it and suggested he write his name and number down for me. "What was your name?" I enquired. "Neil Collins"... just a well known public figure, city councillor, and long term local radio announcer!  He said, "Its Saturday and I am dressed a bit rough."  Again as soon as he said his name I thought, "Of course you are!" and felt stupid.
Early in the week I took a bucket to a man who was collecting for us at a supermarket. I knew this man, he was a bit of a philanthropist and had donated to both the night shelter and our Christmas dinners in the past. He asked questions about the shelter, we talked about the world economy then he said, "You're David Brown aren't you? You guys are doing good stuff!" "Oh well we get there, we've got the night shelter running OK." I responded. "No" he said, "I meant you and your church. You really serve the community. I love your facade and your building. The place looks alive.  You and the Sallys (Salvation Army) are doing your bit!" ... "We try our best" I responded rather lamely.  Over the week there were several similar conversations. Someone said, "You're still doing it then? You never stop, that's great!" Another saw me and said, "Is there any time when you are not doing something for someone?" Others congratulated us on the night shelter and its place in the city. ... They don't really know me, but I appreciated their warm comments.
Just a few stories of people's generosity. I was collecting at a supermarket and a man walked passed to the ATM machine seemingly ignoring me. After a while he stepped away from the machine and I assumed he would walk past again. But he diverted toward me, reached over and put a big wad of new rolled up notes into the bucket. All I could do was stammer "thank you". He just nodded and walked on. Another man walked up to me as he came out of the supermarket and put in a significant donation. I thanked him and he disappeared across the car park. A few minutes later he appeared again carrying a tin. "Have you forgotten something in the market?" I asked, being friendly. "Nah" he replied, "Open your lid." I managed to open the corner of the bucket and he tipped in a big tin load of collected silver coins. At the end of the day, we counted the returns for the day, then added up the week's total. It came to around $300 short of $10000. I mentioned this in Church and an elderly man came up to me and said, "Once you have all the money totaled, tell me the final total and I will make it up to the $10000." People are generous!

Breaking bread
At 5 p.m. on Saturday we ended up at the shelter ready to count out takings. There was four of us from the trust, three Catholics and me the only protestant. We were already tired because we had been collecting all day. I made a cup of tea and we looked for something to eat. A stall holder at the market had given us some loaves of bread for the freezer and one was a savoury loaf. We could not find biscuits so decided we could eat this loaf. I got a knife to cut it and was informed that this type of loaf you broke, you don't cut it. So I declared, "Let's break bread!" Then I said, "You guys are in big trouble you know that?" "Why?" they said. "Well you are all Catholics and you are breaking bread with a protestant!" We laughed, but in a very real sense, this was a communion feast. A cup of tea and bread broken as four followers of Jesus renewed themselves in the common purpose of living out their discipleship. I love the people I meet in my activities. They are special folks.

Photo: I was wrong, we have snow again this weekend and it is going to stay awhile.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Cause to ponder...

Willing to serve...
I was talking to a lady yesterday about faith and our understandings and preferences related to faith. She told me of the denomination she attended and told of the style of meditative worship and the discussions they had about "long distance justice issues". I had been wondering what congregation I would attend whenever I retired and she recommended that particular one, which had its attractions. "Intelligent discussion" she said she enjoyed about it. I hesitated, there were indeed attractions, but, I said, I liked something like my present situation where I could actually be active in serving the community, to me, I said, that service was part of the essence of Christianity. She listened and agreed.
But where are they....
Having said that - at the moment the Night Shelter Trust is running a street appeal. I know that there are a lot of retired folk in Churches yet we have struggled to find collectors to collect for an hour for the night shelter. I listened to some good active Christian retirees talking about how they were filling their day in. I had been dashing around collecting buckets, doing an hour of collecting, trying to fit in chaplaincy and church work and I will be working on Night Shelter stuff till late tonight. Here were these good Christians struggling to amuse themselves! I truly wonder if it is just "religion" to them or do they really understand the way of Jesus? Oh well its up to them, it is their life, but if everyone did a little, it wouldn't be so hard on the few. I do know that there are some people these good Christians would look down on and feel superior to, who are out there doing several hours of collecting.
Don't look at him! You might catch his eye!...
I quite enjoy collecting. It is interesting watching human nature. There are those who go to quite some trouble to give, most small change which is appreciated, and others quite sizable generous donations. But there are heaps who avert their eyes. They don't want to see the "beggar" in the street. They will suddenly pull out their phone, scratch their nose or look out the window (sometimes nearly colliding with something) to avoid seeing this old man collecting, or reading about his cause. It is funny when you do catch their eye and smile and say "hi", you can almost see them say, "Oh bugger!".  I guess that's how a lot of people feel about our society... nobody wants to see them. The unemployed, the mental health cases, the struggling solo mother etc etc, can feel like for them, the great majority of society passes by without seeing their plight. It is good for me to stand and be ignored, it helps my understanding of these poor people.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Porridge thoughts; Understated ...and.. weirdly stated.

New Zealanders, like their UK forebears are known for understating things. A major battle could be "a bit of a spat". In the paper this morning the local City Council spokesperson is talking about a shortfall in the budgeted amount for Rugby World Cup festivities. The budgeted amount was $100,000. It seems that now they will need $350,000, leaving a shortfall of $250,000. Debra Simes gives the reason for the shortfall and says... "That's the reason why the $100,000 [budget] is a little light." A little light? 250% light! or two and half times as much again light! In what planet is that "a little light"? Talk about understatement!
Knighthood for Richie McCaw
The Otago Daily Times article read; "Prime Minister John Key hopes Richie McCaw gets a knighthood if he steers the All Blacks to victory at the Rugby World cup."  Let me say that I do not think honours should be dependent on "ifs". Things like knighthoods or medals should be handed out because of consistent quality of leadership and contribution to the game or community over a period  of time. If Richie McCaw has done this he should get an honour whether or not the team wins in the 80 minutes of the final. It should not be dependent on an "if the team wins". Richie could play out of his skin, and the team could play the best game they have ever played, but another team might be better on the day. If Richie has given good consistent leadership to the team over the years and if he has contributed to the community he should get an honour whether or not the team wins. It cheapens the honour if it is dependent on just 80 minutes of play time.

These two things hit me as I read the paper over my porridge this morning

Tuesday ramblings

God's love...
There are deep divisions in our world with people hating Muslims and Muslims hating the west. I go to the fire stations where at the moment the average fire fighter is looking with suspicion on "management". "They are trying to screw us!" The fire fighters have a kind of strike going trying to force a settlement on their contract. We have a bunch of "different" guys who come to Space2B, others don't like them being there.  I find it hard not to get resentful at people who write me off as if I was a religious nut of some kind. To some people it seems like any person of faith is an inferior out of date low-intelligence life form.  It annoys me that these ardent atheists do not engage the more scholarly and modern thinking theologians. They prefer to write us all off as if we were believers in a flat earth. On the other hand I get angry at fundamentalist Christians who in my view distort the way of Jesus. There is no doubt I have offended a few conservative brothers and sisters, who would write me off. Sometimes I find myself angry at people who do not try to help themselves, who expect endless handouts as their right. Divisions abound, and we all can write people off, as the "other" "unacceptable" "outcast".  I found a challenging statement in my preparation for this Sunday. "If God does not love us ALL, he does not love at all." An implication is that as soon as I say "I hate..." I am denying the love of God for me that I might like to claim. Anyway it challenged and rang bells with me. Everybody, even bad buggers, is loved of God.
St John NZ say "no" to on site workplace chaplains.
It is official. At a national level St John Ambulance have, because of financial issues, ended the concept of on-site workplace support chaplains and I am to finish visiting the Dunedin centres at the end of the month. They are going to a different system of support for staff. I have known this for a month or so, but local staff have not known. When I went there today the first person I saw said, "You will still come and visit us won't you?" (News had gone around in an official email) Others said the same thing. "You can still pop across and have lunch?" The difficulty is that professionally it may not be tolerated. The new support "firm" will not like the competition. When I pointed this out, they just said, "We invite you! Surely we can do that?" It is going to be hard having Dunedin St John HQ virtually opposite the Church, and yet not be able to call. I have been visiting there since 1998/99. (Not sure exactly when I started?) I am contracted for 2 hours a week at St John. As I have said before, I believe there is an incredible amount of support given in the informal "chatting" that I do.  I would do it for nothing, but the system would not allow it. Sometimes in my mind I question the overheads of the Workplace Support "firm" that I work for, and wonder if we are too expensive as a Christian ministry, but better economic minds than mine set the fees. I have enjoyed supporting an organisation like St John, they do so much good.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Sunday's ramblings

Quoted overseas
I discovered from a comment on the blog that part of my blog post had been inserted into a blog in Canada. I was intrigued. Was anything I said worth someone else quoting? Canada? That is a long way away? I am just an old bloke still getting used to the global nature of the World Wide Web. Amazing... Full of self doubts now... I better be careful what I say!
Christian Hospitality.
We have a space at our Church we call Space2B. It has coffee, resources and comfortable chairs. We have it open every week day lunch time for people. On Wednesday it is open for extended hours as a place new immigrants can come to for conversation and information. Regularly we have been having a group of "guys" in who are unemployed, not the top of the heap type of people, if you catch my drift.  I think they are evolving into quite a useful support group. Lately, however, we have not had many new immigrants. We got feed back that suggests the new immigrants are not coming because "the guys" are there. What do we do? We want to be hospitable to and encourage new immigrants because they are often ostracised because they are different. But if we kick "the guys" out, even to another room, we are treating them as "different" and reinforcing the very values and attitudes we are trying to overcome. Would Jesus kick "the guys" out? We have to express his values in the way we run our church. "The medium is the message". We could easily, as a church, deny the way of Jesus by being pragmatic about this. There once was an opportunity to open a drop-in for these guys but because of our democratic process it never happened. Now we are stuck with the problem with no easy answer. It could well be that we support another group to look after immigrants.
Where do I "belong"?
A comment by a friend today had me asking myself this question. I stewed on it while I went for a walk up "my" mountain this afternoon.
- Of course I do belong in my family, my wife and kids. Among them I do feel accepted.  My kids, now all adults, love me and put up with me, but for a variety of reasons they are more comfortable talking over issues with their mum. Perhaps I was too often an absent dad even when I was present.
- I love and am proud of my own brothers and sisters. Each is a very responsible, caring and skilled person. But, maybe because we as a couple were away from NZ and the South Island very early on, of all the five siblings, I guess I am a little on the "outside" of the group. I am not on the same wavelength as they are. I enjoy their company when we are together. I am not sure they enjoy mine as much however.
- Do I "belong" in the church? Of course I do, because I am a church minister. Theologically I am on the very edge of "orthodoxy" in an old establishment church. I don't truly feel "at home" there. I am not sure that there is a church where I fit, but I struggle to really fit in with the Church group. I suspect I am a bit "eccentric" for them, though they have been very loyal over the years.
- I find myself struggling with bureaucracy in Habitat for Humanity, Workplace Support and the Church.   I do enjoy project focused groups. I love, and feel accepted when I am part of a team doing good stuff for people.
- I often look nostalgically at building sites. I enjoyed those places as a tradesman. I enjoyed working with my hands, the camaraderie that went on and seeing a building take shape. But one of the discussions that went into the melting pot that led me move away from the trade was one where I was told I did not belong there. We had a senior medical student doing holiday work with us and I had long discussions with him. Out of the blue one day he said, "You don't belong here! You are different from these guys. You should be doing something more."
- I do belong in the bush. As I walked through the bush thinking the issue through, I thought "Here I am ME."
- I enjoy being a chaplain, but even the best of them where I feel most at home, I am still an independent "outsider" by profession. I count it a privilege to have received the warmth and acceptance I have enjoyed.
- I was in a supervision session with a student who is on a placement at our drop-in centre. She passed a comment on my style of being at the drop-in. She said, "It is just like you are one of them, and a part of the group." I think that is a good thing. I try to "be" and let them "be". Not sure if she saw it as a totally good thing though.

Anyway... I often feel out of step... Still not sure where I really "belong" but at the same time I do feel accepted by so many... I am fortunate.

Full marks to St John Ambulance guys
I was at St John Ambulance station on Friday. A couple of paramedics had a call out and as they passed me said, "Hey Dave, wanna come for a ride?" We went to a particularly awkward case. Once again I want to say I was so impressed with the caring, professional way they went about their work. These people do a marvelous job.

Is this the last snow for the year? It was nice up my mountain. Strong cold wind was blowing chunks of ice off the tall radio mast. It was a bit dangerous walking underneath.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

"Computer as a second language." PBP with me.

My desk top at my church office was playing up so a young guy, Mark (early 20's) came down to the office after church. He looked at it for me and played around. He did not do anything that I could not do, but clicked onto issues much quicker than I would. He was moving the curser around the screen, clicking and responding to things much much faster than I would ever do. I was pushing just to read the scripts in the time he took. I, who enjoys playing with computers more than most my age, felt illiterate! I got to thinking about this.
We deal with people often with English as their second language. They can be very good at their english but you can see them having to think about it. You will say a sentence and they will go over the sentence in their mind to grasp it, before they can respond. As they speak english you can see there is just a little extra effort composing the sentence. For us, it is second nature and comes easily, but for them, they can do it but it is a slower process.
I started my working life as a plumber. I worked for over five - six years in this field. Whenever I do plumbing now though I notice it is a slow process. I had to do the waste pipes for a Habitat for Humanity house a few years ago. I took a day off work and did them. I got a carpenter friend to arrange for a plumber to look at them to check out I had done them correctly. He said, "Tell Dave I would give him a job anytime, that is a great job!" My response was that he would not like to pay for the time it took. Because I had been out of plumbing for so long I had to think about everything I did. What once came automatically, easily and quickly now had to be processed and took a long time.

I thought this is the difference between me and Mark (and other younger generation people) on the computer. I am reasonably computer literate for an old bloke. But what I need to think through and process, comes as second nature to the young Marks of this world. I have "computer as a second language", Mark has "computer" as an automatic, almost instinctual native language.

I say to you young Marks of this world, PBP.... Please be patient with us old blokes, we have "computer" as a second language... to you it is your native tongue!

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Just do it!

What's your theology?
My wife is a "professional volunteer". People ask me if my wife "works" and I have to say well "yes - but she doesn't get paid for any of it." (I think I would be sleeping alone if she ever heard that I said "no" to that question!) I reckon she works as hard, if not harder than most people in a paid position. The Church actually gets two people for the price of one, and there are other causes she volunteers for. One she has just taken on recently is that she looks after children for a group of women from different ethnicities while they have a "chai and chat group" in our Church building. (Run by the Multi-ethnic Council) She was there talking to a mother the other day and this lady began to ask about our Church. Her question was, "What is your theology?" My wife said she was not quite sure where to start in answering the question but the first response that ran through her mind was, "Theology? -  Just do it!"  In the words of Forrest Gump - "That's all I want to say about that."

Monday, August 1, 2011

My day off..

I slept in!
I got up at about 7 a.m. but wandered back to bed and snoozed till about 9 a.m. then had a leisurely breakfast. The weather looked OK. It is strange for me to sleep in so long.
Amazing light technology
I repaired an outside light that has two bulbs, one shining down the driveway, the other around the corner to our back door. It is one of those which senses movement and comes on. As I walked out the back door and it switched on I thought about that technology. My Dad died when I was relatively young in 1964. If I told him then that soon we would have lights that switched on by sensing movement he would have thought that was science fiction. It is technology we take for granted now days though!
Sanded a table top..... thanks Mr Maloney. 
My wife feels we need a little table in Space2B that people can sit around. There was one down the back shed with a scratched and discoloured top. I got that out today and sanded the top. I had an orbital sander which was making slow hard work of it. I got out a drill with a sanding disk on it and that cut through the varnish but seemed to liquefy it so that it clogged up the sanding disk.  Then I remembered Mr Maloney my wood work teacher back in intermediate school. He had rectangle pieces of steel and taught us how to scrape the surface of wood with them. I tried a bit of angle iron I had and it worked quite well. I then pulled the blade out of an old wood plane I have and used that. It was magic! It removed the old varnish beautifully and quickly. I then finished off with the orbital sander and elbow grease with a sanding block. A great job done.
I cleaned Wicked Wanda... "Wax on, wax off"

Wicked Wanda is my old 1990 Nissan Bluebird car. I hardly ever wash my cars. Wanda was looking very dirty and uncared for. I found some old wash and wax in the workshop and gave her a wash. I first washed the dirt off. I then rinsed that stuff off. Then I applied the "wash and wax" according to the instructions. It was a lot harder than the instructions seemed to suggest. They said something like "simply pour some stuff in water, apply with a sponge, rinse off then dry off with a shammy". "Simply?" ... after sanding the table top all morning, and washing Wanda this afternoon my shoulders and arms know they have worked. The Rugby World Cup promoters say that I could "watch history being made". Well history was made today... I washed and waxed a car!
I stacked firewood...
We have a great big pile of blue gum firewood stacked down the back paddock. Then we have cupboards we stack it in before it makes its final journey to the fire. Well the cupboards were getting empty so I brought barrow loads of firewood from the back paddock to the cupboards close to the house. It should see out the rest of winter. I did this until it was nearly dark.
I put ties on Buckets... Now I remember C = Pye times the Diameter. 
We have a Night Shelter street appeal next week. We have volunteers standing on street corners with buckets and passersby make donations. (Please let them be generous!) Well we have had a problem. Once we suspected that one of our volunteers was dipping into the bucket to help his own funds. (He would not have got much) Donors also like to feel confident that their donation is going to the right place. So we decided that we would put ties on the bucket lid. I decided that I could polish this job off tonight. I wanted three ties per lid, spaced around the lid equal distance apart. How to work this out? I used to be top of the class in maths at secondary school, but I have forgotten the formula. What to do? Google it of course! I did it, worked out the circumference, divided it by three, made up a paper disk to guide me and drilled and tied the 25 buckets. Good job done. I will sleep well tonight.

Now I better look at the readings for next week and get ready for tomorrow. I received confirmation that I will end one of my chaplaincies at the end of the month... pretty sad about that.