Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, September 30, 2011

I am "wire netting".

I have just been for a walk up "my mountain" (Mt Cargill) while writing my sermon in my head.  On the track there are several board walks and the board walks have netting nailed to them. The netting is essential! I recall tramping down near the southern most tip of the South Island of New Zealand. I was walking through bush beside my wife and it was raining. We came to a small bridge over a stream and should have gone over it in single file. It was a board walk type bridge with netting on it. I, however, stepped onto the outer edge of the bridge where there was no wire netting. It was as slippery as ice. With a big pack on my back I went down in a heap one, foot dangling in the creek underneath. I bruised myself badly, and ever since have made sure I stay on the wire netting whenever I encounter a board walk. Wet wood is slippery.
As I walked over board walks today I got to thinking that I am a bit like netting on a board walk. I may not see the results of my actions or work, but maybe, just maybe my efforts help to give people traction in life and stop them falling over? I thought also that there are people in my life who are like wire netting helping me to have traction and not slip over. Just part of my musings while I walked. :-)

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Two Certificates ... a new role

Crisis Intervention and Management Australasia
I have spent the last three days doing a course in Critical Incident Stress Management / Group Crisis Intervention. It is a course approved by the "International Critical Incident Stress Foundation". I have a bit of paper that says I can do the work I have been doing since 1995. I put my new certificate in my folder of certificates and discovered that I had three other CISM course certificates from various organisations. I do know that I am well trained and quite experienced in this work.
St John Certificate and things
Rose, certificate of appreciation, stole and CISM certificate.
I was invited to go to St John for a "little presentation" tonight. I got over to the HQ building and there were about forty staff and the area committee gathered. There was a speech by the regional chaplain and he welcomed me to the family of St John and formally appointed me as a chaplain, presenting me with a St John Stole. ... the "badge of office". Then the Area Chairperson presented me with a rose bush ... linked to St John ... and a Certificate of Appreciation. A paramedic made a spontaneous speech which I really appreciated. He expressed appreciation for the way I came across and had lunch with them. He appreciated that I allowed them to off load in their way, in their language. He said that the support I gave was most often "very subtle in which we subconsciously unloaded our stuff while you just listened." During the cup of tea and sandwiches later I had many handshakes and expressions of support. I looked around the room and there were couples I had married. There were people whose parents I had buried. There were school aged children running around from couples I had married. "This is saying to you, we want you to keep coming across for lunch with us!" said one paramedic. "We really appreciate your presence." I felt honoured. I felt a little scared that I was launching into another voluntary position with responsibilities. But I also feel excited. It is a good organisation doing good things for the community. I have the opportunity to be there amongst them as a representative of "the Sacred" encouraging and supporting. One door (Workplace Support Chaplaincy) at St John had closed, and another door (voluntary chaplaincy) has opened. My life experiences keep expanding.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

What would Jesus do?

We have a man who comes to our Space2B, Drop-in centre and Church who has totally inappropriate ways of relating with people and seems to be getting worse. He will get offended easily if people don't listen to him or don't agree with him and frequently starts yelling. Lately his personal hygiene has been an issue also. His actions ruin the Space2B experience for people. It does not feel a safe place like it is intended to be. We have been tolerant and many people bend over backwards to "be nice" and inclusive. We have a couple in our Church who give an open invitation to people for lunch on a Sunday about once a month. People really appreciate this and the house is quite full. Apparently this last Sunday this man started shouting there and being disruptive. What would Jesus do?

It annoys me that agencies who receive money to look after such people seem to readily ban them if they become disruptive... so they are not looked after. They are left on the street to flounder. Anyway think about us. We are trying to find ways to lovingly care for this man who has mental health issues, but at the same time keep others safe and make our place suitable and welcoming for them. Wish I knew what Jesus would do?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Church is good for me!

Widens my circle of concern
I often do not have much good to say about the church - even though I am a Church minister. I think the Church distorts the way of Jesus. I think that often the Church has led to a self-centred christianity. I do not like much what happens and what is expected in worship. I do not enjoy organ music. I think often the Church has become an end in itself rather than a means to an end. As I reflected on my life sometime in bed last night though, I thought of something significant my Church experience has done and does do for me. It widens my circle of concern and interest.  We can easily lapse into a sheltered lifestyle, where we look after ourselves and our "tribe".  We can become just a part of the problems in the world by basically being apathetic about the needs of others. Someone has said that the opposite of love is not "hate" but "apathy" - at least hate treats the other as a person. Apathy is indifferent to the other's existence altogether. In my life my experience of Church has always kept before me the needs of others.

As a kid growing up in the North East Valley Church of Christ we had people in our congregation who had a wider vision about life. Dr A L Haddon, principal of the Glen Leith Bible College, had a passion for CORSO. We as kids were involved in door to door collections, packing second hand clothing. I had a relative we called "Uncle Harry" (Harry Smith, married to my father's cousin) He was involved with St John Ambulance and we as children got involved on street appeal days and were aware of this service organization. We were constantly informed about the needs of people in Southern Rhodesia (Now Zimbabwe) by visiting missionaries. One of my heros was a one time missionary, Sir Garfield Todd who championed the cause of the black population, became Prime Minister of that country, but later was imprisoned and suffered for his beliefs. He visited and knew my parents. We had visits from Leprosy mission representatives who challenged us with the needs of lepers throughout the world. Christmas was always not just a selfish wallowing in gluttony and receiving of gifts. We were always made aware of the needs of others through the Christmas Bowl appeal. This has been true throughout my life. As a minister when I have had to seek to communicate the message of scripture I have been challenged by Jesus' words calling for a servant lifestyle again and again.  The message of Old Testament prophets to look after the poor, to seek justice and to care for the oppressed has always challenged me. Right through to last Sunday's Mission Sunday visit, the Church has been good for me as a person. It lifts my vision from my own navel gazing to think about others. It broadens my understanding of the world. It puts the problems of life in perspective alongside the needs of others. It simply widens my circle of concern and in so doing helps make me a better person.

Stupid car, stupid flu and stupid weather.
Today I have a sore throat. It feels like the flu is coming back again. The weather has once again been uncertain with cold winds so it has made me hunker down inside most of the day. We went to the farm supply store and bought a big bag of sheep nuts to feed our goats. While loading this into the back of the car I hit my head on the hatch. I could feel it gouging out the skin on my scalp. It just keeps bleeding and has given me a bad headache. But it will come right. Not a great day off.  Now you can say "He talks through a hole in his head."

Snowy Sunday

Snow again

This week we have had blue skies but cold winds. It is very frustrating, it is supposed to be spring. I have a good friend who moved back to Hungary and boasts about unusually warm September weather. It is annoying because I want to exercise, but the cold wind puts me off. I decided today that I would rug up,  and go walking anyway. It was magical, I walked up my mountain with snow drifting down. Snow on the trees and bushes makes it look great. It was the first day of daylight saving so I had plenty of light. I look forward to using the extra hours of daylight to exercise in the out doors.
Brothers & sisters in need
Today at Church was our "Mission Sunday". We had a DVD and a couple who were our guest speakers. They have been involved in a children's village in Zimbabwe. This village looks after 101 orphans. I have always been interested in this project. There is a farm as part of it and they are working toward being self-sustainable. The statistic that hit me in the DVD presentation was that in the southern African continent there are an estimated 13 million orphans. Now if you add to that the humanitarian disasters in the northern part of Africa, you have a massive number of desperately needy people. If you stop and think about it such a massive need makes the things we in NZ gripe about pale into insignificance. I have people raising theological questions. I have people in chaplaincies trying to draw me into debates about the existence of God. People love to discuss in an academic fashion various political and economic theories. But these sorts of debates are the luxury of the rich. There is so much need, if we are human at all, we ought in this world to be trying to find ways to share our resources to help feed, give prospects and hope to desperate people. That is a deep truth whatever we believe, where ever we are. Dag Hammarskjold wrote these words...
"Human beings are like parts of a body created of the same essence. When one part is hurt and is in pain, others cannot remain in peace and be quiet. If the misery of others leaves you indifferent and with no feelings of sorrow you cannot be called a human being."
Anyway, I was reminded of the needs of the world this morning and inspired to do more to share the riches I have. I would love to go help at this village in Zimbabwe but need to work out the best use of resources. i.e. With my skills or lack of skills, is it better to give money than selfishly look for yet another adventure in life? ... we can easily use the poor for what amounts to "adventure tourism".
I appreciated the challenging input into my life this morning. They challenged by the humble example of loving creative care.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Friday night drop-in

I had another busy Friday. I conducted a funeral for the mother of one of the guys at St John Ambulance at 11 a.m. I had typed up everything the night before but during the night decided on some changes. I hit the office planning to make those changes. I did some work for a Women Across Cultures group that meets in our hall. I responded to a phone call from the Night Shelter Chairman. We were just finishing our discussion when my cell phone rang. It was another relatively short but intense phone call. That seemed to be the way of it for the rest of the morning. I had four visitors to the office and another two phone calls before rushing out to lead the funeral. I did get the changes to the funeral service made but when I made a cup of coffee thinking I could go over it before rushing out the door, I had my final visitor just come to chat. The funeral went well. I have done three for this family in the last nine months.

Arriving back at the church I spent the afternoon doing chaplaincy work at the Newspaper  and fire station till well after five. At 6:30 we started our Friday night drop-in centre. We did not have many there but I thought I would tell you about it. It begins when I open the door and 30 - 40 people come in and go to the upstairs hall (The Upper Room) I try to greet the ones I know by name as they come through the door. There are some pies/sausage rolls (left-overs from a bakery) on saucers, hot savaloys (with tomato sauce and bread) dished out and sandwiches and bread rolls available. A container of cold drink is available and an urn where they can make themselves coffee, Milo or tea. Buns and biscuits are served during the night. Some rush to the two pool tables, others watch TV and all just catch up on each other. I did the first rush of dishes in a sink in the corner, played a game of pool and then played Table Tennis. There is this chinese guy who loves to play table tennis with me. He is 29 and I am 63. He hits the ball very hard so they are fast paced games up to 11. I think I still win more often than he does, but I cannot say many returns are under control, often they are purely in self defense. He would play all night but I have to pull my weight in talking to others and in doing the housekeeping chores. I always play down one end which allows me to keep an eye on the whole hall.

After at least an hour and a half of table tennis I sat to one side and surveyed the scene. There was "Mary" who was there for the first time. I first met her on Wednesday. A pretty woman in her thirties but with addictions and life hassles. She had been in court during the week. It was interesting watching her. She seemed to relax and looked at peace chatting with people. There is a couple of young girls who come with their mother and grandparents. A student on placement is engaging them in some craft work, though they are easily distracted. They have come since they were little. The grandparents separated the other week, but seem happily together again. An unemployed man comes in and greets me. He leaves early to go and put his father to bed. The father is elderly and disabled and this man spends most of his days looking after him. He calls for some food and a few games of pool and generally checks in with me telling me about his week. An elderly alcoholic/ gambling addict is a regular. I have known him for over 20 years. He wanders town with a trolly and each week says, "Dave I'm gonna get my life sorted out next week." I tell him he's been telling me that for 20years. He knows I am there for him when he needs me. On one pool table are a group of avid pool players playing in teams of two. Others watch. Two of them had a deep disagreement for a few months and one never attended during that time. They seemed to have reconciled and are the best of friends again. The other pool table seems to attract lesser pool players, some still learning the game. I prefer playing there because it is not so serious, just fun, though I can beat the best players when I am "on".  This table is often where I get to know new visitors. I invite  them for a game and chat while playing. The game helps to break the ice, and allows me to cross the bridges of suspicion. I must tell you about "Jack". Jack is a simple guy who lives with supervision. He has anger issues sometimes though he has never lost it around drop-in. He comes with a carer, who generally just joins in the fun. Jack has taken on the job of mixing the cold drink and sometimes helps with the dishes. He always throws cheek at me calling me "old man". This week he told me he had got wild at some stage during the week and felt like physically lashing out at someone. Then he said, "I said to myself, - Dave would be disappointed in me - so I didn't!" When he left I gave him a friendly "man hug" and said "Have a good week - look after yourself." He grinned and said "Thank you... I'll be good.. old man."

I have statistics to fill in for the national body.  - How many baptisms? How many salvations? (Last year I responded "God only knows") Average attendance at Church on Sunday? Offerings etc. Excuse the french - they are bullshit... here on a Friday night amongst this mixed, weird bunch of people God is at work in a way statistics would cheapen. We have been running the drop-in since 1995 and it is still meeting a need and still a place of unconditional accepting divine love.

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Other People's problems

Today seemed to be a day of people throwing things at me. Some of them were my problems but others were not.  I just read an article that reported on a survey. It said, "Almost half of kiwi workers want to quit their jobs." (Interestingly enough many blamed "systems and processes" for the way they were feeling - a familiar feel for me.) As I picked up my wife at 6 p.m. tonight, I said in frustration, "I really feel like telling everyone, Church, chaplaincy and the lot, to get stuffed!" Perhaps it was having an extra day off and having to catch up, but today felt yuck! I can't tell you all that happened but it made me remember a quote a colleague gave me years ago. I share it with you.

It is headed; WE HAVE A PROBLEM....

We do not have a problem, and we will never again have one. I'm sure there is a problem, but it is not ours, it is either yours or mine. The first item on the agenda is to neaten up the pronouns and find out whose problem this is. If it turns out to be my problem, I hope you will help me with it. If it turns out to be your problem, I will help you with it subject to the following condition:

At no time while I am helping you with your problem will your problem become my problem, because the minute your problem becomes my problem, you will no longer have a problem and I cannot help a person who does not have a problem! 
(From: The one Minute Manager Meets the Monkey. by Kenneth Blanchard - page 75)

To give an example of what happened. I was listening to the son of a woman who died on Monday. He was telling me all about the event and their life. (I lead her funeral on Friday) The phone rang and it was this person who launched into their problem. They must have sensed my hesitancy, so they asked, "Is it OK, can I talk with you for five minutes?" I replied that, "Well no, I have a guy in the office at the moment, can I ring you back?" They then proceeded to tell me, speaking quickly, more about their problem. The flow of conversation with the man in my office ceased and "the moment" (the healing moment) as they say, was ruined.  My day seemed to be dotted with moments like that.

 The events made me think of the above quote I have pinned on my wall at home. I will have a more productive day tomorrow, I hope.  I have heaps of hours of chaplaincy to do; I have Sunday's service to sort; I have to be ready for a funeral on Friday. ... stop waffling and get back to work David!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Getting old...

Quick trip to Christchurch
Our son in Christchurch has been going through a bit of a difficult time, with a couple of significant transitions. I also have a sister and brother-in-law facing a tough time. My brother-in-law is battling terminal cancer. We decided that we should take a quick trip to Christchurch and touch base with both situations. We left on Sunday afternoon, travelled for two and a half hours staying the night in Timaru. (pretending to be rich in a flash motel with big spa bath)  Then on Monday we continued through to Christchurch arriving in time to pick up our son from his current workplace at around 1 p.m.  We came home today, (Tuesday) leaving Christchurch at around 1p.m. after eating our lunch in a cafe with my sister and her husband.
I don't bend like I used to...
After leading the Sunday service I raced home, changed into old clothing, picked up a ladder and some tools and went into the night shelter. There I met a colleague from the Night Shelter Trust and we explored linking the shelter TV to a proper outside antenna. To do this I had to squeeze through the "manhole" into the ceiling space about four times and crawl around in the dusty dirty ceiling. I also had to clamber up onto the roof with a ladder not quite long enough. (Don't tell anyone, but I pulled a picnic table over and put the ladder on that to make it reach the roof.)  With the help of another man and the donation of a decoder we got a great picture going on the shelter TV. The thing that got me was after I got home I was sore and tired. Tired - probably because I never sleep well on a Saturday night and for me leading a church service is a bit like running a half marathon. Sore, because I am older and I don't bend like I used to. People try to be positive about aging. They say that you are "only as old as you feel" and that it is a matter of "mind over matter".  While I try to be positive and live by the "use it or lose it" philosophy, it is undeniably true that getting old does slow you down. You simply are not as flexible as you used to be. I ached a bit and driving to Timaru was quite an effort. I used to be able to drive all day and night without feeling tired, but on Sunday night I was pleased to see the lights of Timaru. I also enjoyed a soak in the spa bath.
Lets be blunt, I have peeing issues
I have an enlarged prostate, and am waiting for a biopsy. (It will be my second experience of this) Now the interesting thing is that normally, when I am coping with the stress of work, I find myself always having to know where the nearest toilet is. I go often during the day and frequently when I have to go it is a matter of urgency. (My running friend has commented that if she can't beat me, she knows she can be assured she will catch up on me during my toilet stops) I noticed last year on our holiday in Europe this trouble disappeared over the duration of the break. I notice also that whenever I switch off from work and go away on holiday, even for this quick visit to Christchurch, I can go long stretches without toilet breaks. In fact on our trip home today I was joking with my wife that she was the one with prostate problems.  I know that the stress of my lifestyle impacts on a number of my health issues. On holiday I am so much better physically. (I wondered idly as I drove home today, if this experience is the origin of the phrase "I'm pissed off".)  I may have to say "no" to more things? It also raises the question; is it worth risking health issues to keep on working after I reach retirement age in two years time? It may well be that a change in my perspective on the things I do would make life easier?
But work never goes away... mobile phones ensure that.
While I was away I received a text that informed me that the mother of one of the St John Ambulance guys had died. From follow up texts it looks like I will be conducting a funeral in the next day or so. I could feel the "clouds of tension" already gathering as I had to stop to respond to two texts on the return journey. I'll see the guy tomorrow. What did we do before mobile phones? I guess we at least had uninterrupted breaks.
We were in our Christchurch motel chatting with our son. I was lying on the bed, my wife and son were seated. I heard a noise like a big truck passing, then there was a bit of an up and down rumble, then two or three sudden jerks back and forth and a rumble to finish with. It was a 4.3 earthquake something like 8k down. The crockery in the shelves rattled.  Christchurch is still having significant shakes that no doubt put people on edge. I know lots of people who think they would know what to do in an earthquake, but it all happens so quickly. I just lay on the bed, wondering how long it would go on for.  Think of the people in Christchurch. It is still sad seeing the broken houses, shops and the city.
"I've got a job for you."
We talked with my sister and her husband. He is facing terminal cancer and needs constant pain relief. He has set goals. He plans to be around for the completion of the Rugby World Cup. He has some other plans, and one includes Christmas. He is realistic though. I so admire how he is handling this. I don't know how I would be. I am sad for my sister. He is a great bloke and I would have loved them to have grown old together. I hope he's around for a while yet. It was good to catch up today.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Sunday thoughts

Behind closed doors

I went across to St John Ambulance on Friday. They seemed pleased that I had visited and I got invited to go out on the ambulance. I attended two jobs. Whenever I go out in the ambulance or, for that matter in my work as a chaplain, I am aware that behind the doors of houses in suburbia there can be desperate situations. We often think when we are driving around the streets that there is a happy home, mum and dad and two children behind each door. But often if you open doors people can be in a mess and there can be much unhappiness within those walls. I guess it would be true to say that even in the best of homes there are down times when the tension, stress and unhappiness can block out the good. We ALL need support from time to time. We are often too individualistic and wrapt up in our own world, leaving many of us isolated and sometimes struggling. It is true, “No man is an island” – we need others and are often too isolated in today’s world.


I led a service around the theme of Jesus parable in Matthew 20:1 – 16. It is the story about the landowner who hires people at different times of the day, but pays them all the same. It seems unfair, the same pay, but different hours worked. The parable gives us an insight into the ethos of the Kingdom of God.  It is about the generosity of God and says that in the flow of the Kingdom, people are accepted, people are valued cared for with an unconditional, generous love. It is about a different way of valuing people. The trouble is that it cuts at the heart of the assumed foundations we run our world on. My trouble was “How do I communicate this to people so that they can see it, grasp it and respond to it?” I find this very difficult. Our society runs on different paths! Indeed the Church has so distorted the way of Jesus that it too runs on values and perspectives polluted by the values of the world about us. It is so frustrating trying to communicate it. You sometimes look at the faces and hear the comments and wonder if they just think you a raving eccentric. I sometimes hate this job.

I love New Zealand.

I try to be a citizen of the world but I do love NZ. I enjoy this song.  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w4shrCg1b7E

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Mid week "work"

Today is Thursday. I am still very "chesty" after my flu of last week and easily break into coughing. I tire very easily. But I think I am improving.
This week has involved wheeling and dealing in relation to the community groups using our church halls. I sort of over booked for Tuesday night and had a late call on Wednesday night from the president of one group complaining about the noise of another group. I found myself getting a little impatient and ended up saying to her, "Maybe if you don't like what we have you should be looking into another hall to hire?" With this comment her mood changed to being much more conciliatory. They would not get a hall (and storage etc) for anywhere near as cheap as we hire it to them! People are funny they will push the boundaries and expect Churches and ministers to roll over and bend over backwards, but sometimes there has to be a line in the sand. This group seem intent on refusing to pack their chairs up, they frequently leave a mess, stain the carpet and also take up quite a bit of room with the stuff they expect us to store for them. It would not worry me if they left. When I started in this church we had two ministers buzzing around and also a voluntary church secretary who would do all the bookings. Now I seemed to have to do this job, and there are heaps more groups we have to fit in.

I have ended up on Wednesdays spending quite a bit of time at Space2B. There is a small consistent  group of people who come and eat lunch together. It is an informal group who sit around a table, eat and drink and talk. Some do not come to church on Sunday, but still love to come to talk on Wednesday. One lady offered to do some voluntary stuff while there, so she excuses herself and goes up to the drop-in centre and vacuums it. Lately I have been impressed with and enjoy the depth of the conversation. It is becoming a group of firm friends who feel free to share their journey at depth. I feel guilty sometimes that I am not working, just sitting and talking. If I mention this they jump down my throat, "But you ARE working!" I conclude that it is a worthwhile group to be a part of. It is a part of my dream for Space2B. It will be my "Wednesday congregation."

To give you an idea of "me" and what I do, here is today's program. Went into office by 9 after doing a little reading at home. Checked emails and responded to one or two. Talked with a couple. This guy's brother had died suddenly on Saturday in Timaru (2 hours travel away) I listened to the story of the funeral and talked. At 10 I started wandering around the brewery talking to staff there. I had quite a few good conversations. At 12 I walked back to the church buying my lunch on the way. At 12:30 till 1:15 met with my organist to discuss Sunday's service songs. 1:15 till 1:45 met with the Elders' team to discuss and pray for pastoral needs in the Church and beyond. From 2 p.m. till about 4:30p.m. wandered around my newspaper chaplaincy talking with people, returning to the Church to prepare some material for the Night Shelter Trust Board meeting at 5:30 p.m. Met with them till 8 p.m. came home buying fish and chips on the way. Had fish and chips doing this blog post as a way to unwind. Now I will make a final song selection for Sunday and email that away. By that time my wife will be home from her Habitat for Humanity Directors meeting.

Tomorrow... time sheets, service prep, morning tea with a friend, at least one hour newspaper chaplaincy, spend time at St John over lunch, 1:30 - 3 office paper work, from 3 - 5:30 fire stations chaplaincy, prepare Church newsletter material, 6:30 - 10:30 drop-in centre with a late night because we have the big screen going for people to watch the Rugby World Cup game.

As you can see I don't have much time to spare.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

An interesting week.

The dreaded flu strikes
I ended up with a decent dose of influenza this week. I still have not shaken it properly and cough or wheeze easily. Though it began with a bit of a sore throat last Sunday evening and got worse during the week it wasn't till Wednesday that I came home from the office at around 11 a.m. and took the rest of the day off, and then took Thursday off. On Friday I went in at 9 a.m. and we did not finish drop-in until 10:30 p.m. but I must admit to not working really hard all day. We had a Space2B family night at the church on Saturday, which included screening the local Rugby World Cup rugby match. Tonight we open the Church for another game. I learned a few things.
* Essentially I have not done much chaplaincy work this week. I figured it would be irresponsible of me to go visiting people. As I reflected on my week, I got to feeling how much easier it would be for me to be just a minister, and not to have the outside chaplaincy responsibilities. Life would be less rushed, I would have more time to be with my Church people and to be more creative around church. I would not, however, have the added interests in my life and the cut and thrust of working amongst in secular surroundings. I love that aspect of chaplaincy. I am not a minister cloistered among religious people and that makes my life interesting.
* As I have laid in bed, occasionally trying to catch up on emails and other work, I have reflected on our lifestyle. From Tuesday night, including tonight, my wife has been out to a church meeting or taking part in a church function every night.- 6 nights (I have had the flu all week and will have been out four nights) I worked out that at a minimum estimate this week she has done thirty voluntary hours for the church. This week had an extra thrown in but most weeks she would probably do somewhere around 25 - 30. My daughter would probably average around 6- 10 hours a week. (A Church man once questioned her and her husband's commitment - partly because they do not get involved in the bureaucracy... but if more gave half as much time, what couldn't we do?) Stopping for two days made me realise how busy our lives are. Not sure where to go with that but it was an insight. People blissfully say "We as a church do a lot of community service." As I reflected on this there are about 8-9 people in the church busting their guts to enable this to happen.
* I thought I'd reflect on an event that happened at Church last week. We have a guy comes to Church called Robbie. (He prefers "Robert") He initially came to our drop-in centre and sat in a corner saying not much. I played endless games of pool with him and we got to know him. Slowly he became more and more involved in our Church community. Now he helps out at the drop-in centre. He also comes early on a Sunday morning to help set things up, make some coffee and welcome people. He is unemployed, single and in his 50's.  He has had a tough childhood, is not the most highly talented person, but when he takes on a job he is loyal. After Church we have an informal time with hot drinks. Robbie was cleaning up taking a tray of cups back to the kitchen. They slid on the tray and crashed to the floor with several breakages. I was chatting to one of the church leaders nearby at the time. He looked at the mess and said, "Well that was clever wasn't it?" I was quite annoyed and quickly assured Robbie that accidents happen to us all. What interested me was that 55 year old, often cheeky, Robbie reverted to being a little boy. "So sorry about that! I'll clean up the mess. I will replace the cups! So sorry!" Where was he coming from. I pointed out that people who do nothing never break cups. That it was because every Sunday he is helpful and doing stuff that cups broke. No he did not have to replace the cups, and I was pleased a number of people set into helping him clean up the mess. When I took Robbie home again he was still apologising and I was still saying "Hey it is alright!" As we thought about it later we guessed that Robbie's father probably pounced on him for every error. His bosses probably pounced on him. It was sad that as soon as it happened he expected that we would pounce on him.  I think I finally got through to him that we appreciate his efforts and the little breakages were just an unfortunate accident and that's OK. ... I have a theory that we all need re parented by supporting communities of love. Somehow we as parents hurt our children, and one of the tasks of the church, and workplaces and other groups of people is to "re parent us" with unconditional love. Robbie and I often sling cheek at each other, but we really have a brotherly love.
* Today at Church we said farewell a lovely lady. Emi (her real name is Emoke) is Hungarian and became a part of our church community through Space2B. We employed her to look after Space2B for a while. There were hassles with the immigration department. She went to work in Wellington and came backward and forward for a while. She has an openness to others, could mix with all sorts of people and is quite a thinker. She is heading home to Hungary tomorrow and we are sad to lose her though pleased she will be able to catch up with family.  Her and I had a thing going... She adopted me as her NZ "Dad" and I called her "daughter". We will keep in touch. As I drove away after final farewells, photos and hugs all around I got to thinking of all the different people who pass through my life. I am truly blessed.  

Photo: Robbie is on the right. Emi is next to him.  Tonight I am thankful for them both. I hope I contribute to their life.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Indispensable ... yeah right

I have been off work sick for the last couple of days. This is a very rare event in my life. Apart from weeks off many years ago with glandular fever, I can't remember any days I have actually had off due to illness. I have sometimes come home early, but I have to be quite ill to call it quits for a whole day. When I was debating whether to knock off or not I was blessed with lots of advice. A friend in Aussie emailed saying; "Do you think your body might be saying to you stop and rest and let the world carry on without you..." My little brother in Central Otago put on Facebook "Look after yourself bro, life goes on without you." I have had arguments with a good friend on Skype making similar points and my wife has given me a rev up or two along the same line. I started to feel poorly on Sunday night, and slowly got worse till on Wednesday morning I decided to come home from the office. It is an interesting state of affairs. It is difficult to switch off, but difficult to do much either. I was walking around the house before wondering what the squeaky noise was I was hearing. I then realised it was my own breathing! I was wheezing so much.  I should be back at work by tomorrow.... I am blogging as a way of procrastinating... I have some work that needs to be done by tonight.
Indispensable ... not!
I have laid at home thinking of the things I should have been doing. "What about my chaplaincies?" "I have time sheets to do!" "What about the outreach ministry meeting?" "Who is going to put up tables for the women's tea?" "I need to choose songs and prepare for Sunday?" so it goes on. Unanswered emails mount and the time for Sunday's preparation is getting short.  I was a young teenager when my Dad died. The day after his death my brother and I went up town on a little moped because we needed to buy something.  I recall getting to the busy area of town and wanting to scream, "Hey everybody... my Dad died! Stop what you are doing!" My world had caved in, but here it was obvious, life just went on! It was a harsh way to learn a lesson. I recall once when my fire fighters were taking industrial action I jokingly threatened to go on strike. "But Dave," they shot back at me, "Who would notice?"  If I was not just sick today, but for some reason I departed the scene, a few people would miss me for a while, but essentially life would go on! That is the way it is. It is like when a pebble is thrown into a pond and there is a splash, some ripples, but pretty soon the pond is calm again with no sign of the stone's presence. So as I am forced to take time off, I need to remember that life goes on. I am not indispensable. I need to learn not to take myself too seriously. (I have often remembered scenes from past Church meetings and conferences. There have been "big people" who would rave on, sometimes in argumentative tones, expressing their opinion as if the world depended on it. They argued, and spent heaps of energy on their schemes and ideas... but now they, and often the issues they thought worth fighting over are mostly forgotten. What did their full head of steam accomplish? From this point in history they are just a novelty who sometimes come up in conversation with elderly folk.) We often take ourselves a way too seriously.  I need to learn, that when I am sick the world will go on without me. I can take time off.
But doing the best I can...
On the other hand, I think it is important to recognise that our contribution is important. We can too glibly say, "The world will go on" and not take seriously enough the contribution that we make or can make. In one of my chaplaincies I am astounded by the number of sick days the workers have off.  Many have the full quota of their allowance. One of the reasons for this, I believe, is that they do not think that highly of their work. From their perspective, it makes no difference whether they front up or not. I think that is sad. It must surely make them feel bad about their life overall. Where is the job satisfaction? If I was management or indeed union, I would be looking for ways to enhance the workers' experience. We need to value the contribution that we make, and while recognising we are not indispensable, recognise that we have a part to play and that we are accountable for how we lived while we are here. To use the picture of the stone in the pond. Of course the stone disappears, but there are ripples. If we invest our life wisely expressing important and constructive values of love, with behaviour and work that contributes to the wholeness of people's lives, then the ripples we make are significant and make an impact long after we are gone. While it probably will hardly be noticed that I did not turn up for a chaplaincy this week, the deep conversation I had last week with a guy should not be under rated. I made a difference and we all can make a significant impact for good by responsible living.

There is a balance between not taking ourselves too seriously and living responsibly aware that life is short and we can make a difference.  We are a part of the fabric of life and history. I guess there is the reminder in Ecclesiastes...   "For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: ...." Today it is my time to be sick and step back a bit for a while, till tomorrow.... maybe.

Monday, September 5, 2011

"Oh woe is me!"

It is my birthday, but I am feeling crap. I have an energy sapping head cold. I am in my heated office, but still feeling cold. In recent years when it has been my birthday I have had a funeral or something. I have a busy enough day today with an evening meeting, it is just a normal day, but I am grumpy about being sick. (It is the worst I have felt for a long time) But I have just been reminded to stop my "Woe is me" moaning and get on with it. I have been working through my "to do" list for today. One thing I have to fit in is to deliver a wheel chair. Yesterday I did repairs to a wheel chair the Church owns. Today I deliver it to a lady who tomorrow receives her mother from the hospital. Mum (about my age) has had a brain tumor and, according to a lady who asked about a wheel chair, has a quality of life not much better than a "vegetable"... she can't do anything for herself. She is not going to get better.  I have a brother-in-law battling cancer who is not expected to get better. (Never write people off - he is a battler) But just these two incidents make my head cold pretty insignificant don't they? They also make my self-pity very small minded. :-)

My day off

Off colour but I reckon I got a bargain.
Today we had the best weather we have had for a long time. Unfortunately I have an energy sapping head cold so I have not been able to enjoy it as much as I would have liked. A hair cut started my day. My wife has cut my  hair for years, so I sat obediently while heaps of hair fell off. She claimed that it was two haircuts worth, accusing me of letting my hair grow for eight weeks. Some weeks ago I saw a rowing machine in a "Pay and Display" store. While I thought it was not working as it should and the computer wasn't working, it was a reasonable quality machine. The price then was around $200. I thought about buying it then. On Saturday we went to buy something something else and discovered the rower still there. There was no price on it so we asked. It had been sold to a man who was coming back with the money - but that was four days ago. They said they would check it out and I should get back to them. Today we rang and they said since he hadn't come back with the money we could buy it for $165.  There is my birthday present. We raced into town and picked it up. When I got back home I pulled it apart. I repaired and adjusted various parts, lubricated others and put it together again. At the end of the day I looked into the little computer display. I was not really worried about not having it, but it was worth investigating. I cleaned contacts, renewed an eroded bit of metal, put batteries in it and away it went. I now have a rower that is almost as good as new. A new one would cost well over $1000. I have always enjoyed the rowing exercise, I rowed for real at secondary school. I enjoyed rowing when I was a regular at gyms, it is a good over all workout and I look forward to having a great workout as soon as I am over my cold.
Hens on the loose
When I returned from my walk up the hill yesterday my neighbour informed me that he had a hen running around his backyard, "Was it mine?" I went down the paddock to count our hens. I discovered two others on the loose. My neighbours caught their intruder and I guided the other two into the run. The last part of the afternoon was spent putting new netting on one of our hen runs so that hopefully the hens wont escape. We have eight hens, often they lay between eight and seven eggs a day which is pretty good.
Thinking out loud about creator... again
Last post I raised the question of believing in God but not necessarily believing in "him" as the actual creator of all that is. In thinking further about this - to say this does not make the symbol of "creator" invalid. All language about God is symbolic. Calling God creator is a way of talking about our relationship to life, to the universe and to each other. By calling God creator we are recognising that these relationships and responsibilities are of ultimate importance. ... well these things are implications of seeing God as a creator.   Anyway... beware... heretic burbling again. ... well a not quite 63 year old still exploring the massive mystery we call "God."

Did you know that I nearly died at birth? Apparently I was premature and what my mother called a "blue baby" whatever that is. The story went that at one stage they thought I wasn't going to survive! I am glad they saved me... the 63 years have been pretty good.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Its Sunday again

Involvement costs
This past week has been a bit dramatic. We had confirmation of bad news for a brother-in-law battling cancer. * I finished as Workplace Chaplain at St John Ambulance. That was a bit hard. I took a cake just to mark the occasion. * I ended up in the middle of a controversy and was abused because of that. But on Friday it turned out OK and I suspect my little bit contributed to a positive result. A bit stressful though. * At Drop-in centre we had a husband and wife who had been having trouble and she could take it no longer. She decided to use the Drop-in centre as the place she could plan an "escape" to the women's refuge. She and her two grandchildren (who they basically parent) disappeared part way through the night. The couple had been together 30 something years so it was, for me a bit sad to watch the demise of this relationship though it seemed, from her point of view a hopeless case. I think its a bit tough having to bring up grandchildren later in life, and these two are especially demanding. I decided that involvement in the community or with people costs. If I was a good "in-house" church minister then I would not have to feel the pain of so much "real" life. There would of course be pain in the lives of my church people, but community involvement just adds to my experience of anguish. But then again, I would not have the real sense of meaning, connection and relevance that involvement brings.

Mountain walk

I walked up my Mount Cargill mountain today.  After stormy weather the last couple of days this afternoon was sunny and calm.  I brought this decayed leaf home. It is just like intricate lace work. Isn't nature grand? See all the little vessels that feed the leaf? Amazing stuff! I attempted to video the expansive view from the top of the mountain. (Sorry about the heavy breathing if you have your sound on) 
Just to do some thinking out loud for a few moments - Many Christians would wax on about the amazing leaf and the scenery and attribute all this to God the creator. I am amazed at nature! I love nature, micro and macro. I love my own body and am really impressed with the way it all works... long may it continue. I am thankful for these aspects of life. ... but.. to believe in God do you have to believe in a creator God? Some religions don't. Nature happens, but God is still a part of life, but not necessarily the creator... just there? If you tie "him" into being creator what do you do with earthquakes, cancer, cruel Alzheimer's disease and tsunamis and hurricanes etc? Was he having a bad day when these slipped in? To thank God for the leaf must we also see him as creator of these things too? Just thinking out loud. I was never truly convinced with the theological rationale for natural evil. They seemed like theological gymnastics. Creation and nature have an independence from God. I certainly do not think he is a puppeteer in the sky controlling life and death. Yet I believe in the reality of God and sense a sacred presence in life. ... anyway I loved my walk up the mountain.
Fathers day and Birthday
It is Fathers Day here in New Zealand. I have been fielding phone calls and texts from my Children for Fathers day. My son in Edinburgh put a message on Facebook saying: "Hey Dad, Happy Fathers Day, Your one in a mill'! Hope you had an awesome day!!"  Which I think was neat. My daughter and Son-in-law gave me a Speights Clock since I am chaplain to the Brewery in Dunedin. They have dared me to have it on the wall in the Church office. Perhaps I will, but there will be rumblings in grave yards around Dunedin. Many tea total ex-church members will be spinning in their graves!
On Tuesday I turn 63. I will have a busy day for a birthday. But... when did I get that old? It is only two years until I can retire? Will I feel I have done all that I want to do as a Church minister? I look at my acre of ground here and look forward to having more time to enjoy gardening, building and "farming".  But maybe there are more ministry adventures to be had? I was intrigued this morning. I departed from taking up the lectionary readings and did a topical sermon. A few people mentioned how much they appreciated it and how I have a real gift in communicating so that the "average" person can grasp it. It does not take away the difficulty of it all though. Anyway... 63 ... sounds so so old... here I come!

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Abusive Phone call

I am tired tonight. This week I have been dragged into a controversy within a group using our Church building. I won't go into details but it has involved me being put in an awkward position where I had to make decision that would annoy one group of people. I wrote a fairly straight talking email outlining my thoughts on the sadness of the whole situation and my final decision. Since then I have talked to distressed people, pondered what lay ahead and read angry emails. The worst thing happened when one guy rang me late on Tuesday night, introduced himself, said he had read my decision and that I was a "wanker" and hung up. Nice.

Now in my work I have often been called worse things. Firemen can throw cheek and abuse at me with all sorts of insinuations... in fun. I have had drunk people with mental health issues abuse me at the drop-in centre. (Virtually all apologise the next week.) I have had late night phone calls from people with mental health issues going through a down time and they have called me names and described me as racist and other nasty descriptions. Again often they have apologised later.  I have had people trying to con money out of me abuse me when I refuse, even threaten to harm my family in one instance. But this seemed totally unfair. It was not my fight! I did not cause the controversy. I got put unavoidably in the middle of it. He doesn't know me. But he dropped this abuse on me and hung up. I could not reason with him. I did not know his phone number or email address. I have tried to let it run off my back. I think I have responded in a constructive way, though letting the group involved know I did not appreciate it. But somehow it wears you out knowing there is controversy and bad feelings toward you that you cannot do anything about. I have read my email that he was complaining about dozens of times to see if it was nasty. It was assertive (it had to be) but respectful and clear.  The person I wrote the email to responded in a respectful and reasoned way though disagreeing with my decision. But this man was clearly upset.  The man has since resigned his position, I don't know the circumstances of that.

It is a sad but interesting experience. It really is where your Christian maturity is tested. Part of me would have liked to have punched his lights out. I must admit to swearing as I put the phone down. Part of me wanted to write a nasty sarcastic email. I had to stop and ask myself, "What does it mean to follow the crucified one in this instance?" It requires the readiness to test your part in the battle and see if you have been as constructive ass possible. It requires you to trust deep down that you are OK and you really don't have to defend yourself. It requires putting aside any retribution and trusting that right will prevail.  It has been an interesting personal reflective exercise. I hope, however I get more sleep tonight. My life is never dull.