Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, October 31, 2011

Life is not always fair - bugger!

A new theological word.

This morning I have visited my sister and her husband. It was a very emotional visit. My brother-in-law Alex has got terminal cancer and in recent weeks they have had trouble controlling his pain levels. As we said “goodbye” after our visit today and shared hugs all around, our eyes watered up.  Dunedin is about 5 hours’ drive away from Christchurch, it is a long way to go to visit again. He is my sister’s third husband.  With husband number one (whose company I enjoyed) she had three children, all adults now. She married husband number two and while I got on OK with him, I did think she deserved better. Without going into details, husband number one and two, in different ways did the dirty on my sister.  About three years ago I took a happy wedding when she married Alex, husband number three. Alex seems to be a really good bloke who loves and respects my sister. He has a generous heart and a nice manner about him.  I have been wrapt because my sister found someone decent, loving, who was good for her and she was good for him.  I thought she had found someone really good and that they would grow old together. But over a year ago they told him he had about two months to live because of his cancer. Now I hope you will excuse a minister some highly theological words that express deep truths about these events. …. Bugger! ..... Sometimes life stinks! “Shit” really does “happen.”

I don’t believe God caused it or that God is “calling him home.” I do not think the cancer is there for any mysterious purpose that “God alone can see.” I just think it is one of the tragedies of life. There simply are no guarantees in life.

Courage and love are beautiful

When I was at intermediate school I did woodwork. We made a wooden stool. (The legs I made never quite fit tightly into the holes in the top so mine kept falling apart) Our woodwork teacher had us polishing the top. It was a great revelation to me. It looked like just a normal boring piece of wood, but as I sanded it and scraped it a beautiful wood grain emerged. The wood grain was always there, but it was shown off and seen in the hard work of polishing. That is what is happening with my sister and my brother-in-law. As he faces the prospect of not being around and as he endures the pain and steady decline in what he can do, his courage and character is emerging and being seen as something beautiful. As they travel through this experience together the real love relationship that my sister and Alex have is being seen. They are supporting each other. They remain ever more deeply linked. She is helping him bear the pain. The love they have shines in the darkness. Now let me be clear. This is what is happening in the midst of tragedy because of the character of these two people and the nature of their friendship.  I have heard some people say things like, “See there is a purpose in it after all – God is working his purpose out.”  I do not believe God causes such things to teach us about courage and love! Shit happens, but in the shit, courage and love can still shine forth and life and love out-shine tragedy.  It is true the power of God’s ways is being seen, but that is not why it is happening. That is because two brave people are doing their best.

I still say “bugger! Life is not fair!” but because of the character of this couple, and their openness to the sacred ways and values, I can also say, “Isn’t life, love and courage beautiful?” It was a privilege to spend time with them today.

The Desiderata says, “Exercise caution in your business affairs; for the world is full of trickery.
 But let this not blind you to what virtue there is; 
many persons strive for high ideals;
 and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. 
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;
 for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment 
it is as perennial as the grass.”

Photo of me signing the register for Alex and Katherine's wedding in February 2009. Alex is the big guy in grey shirt looking on. 

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Weekend off with family

We have spent Friday night, Saturday and Sunday morning at Lake Tekapo with our family who are in New Zealand. On Saturday night we rang our son and daughter in law in Edinburgh. It was really good, my son in Auckland and his wife made the big trip all the way down, flying into Christchurch and driving a rental car down with our Christchurch son. In total there was my wife and I, my daughter from Dunedin and her husband; our foster daughter (who has severe intellectual handicaps) our Christchurch son and the Auckland couple. – Eight of us. While it was very short we had a good time. They are good company.

We arrived on Friday night and as we unpacked there was laughter. My wife and daughter had bought food for the weekend. They forgot who was buying what and had doubled up on quite a few vegetables. I had thought that the boys like a quiet drink so had bought a 15 pack of beer. My boys had thought that I would probably forget such a thing so both bought beer and cider. The fridge looked like a liquor store and as it turned out not a great deal was consumed.

On the Saturday after lunch the four “boys” went for a two-hour walk up Mount St John (listed as a three hour walk), which took us along side the lake, and then we wound up the hill to the observatory right on top. There is a cafĂ© there and the girls drove up and met us there for coffee. We boys then walked down a shorter steep track through some trees back to our car.  The all around scenery was just so expansive and somehow relaxing. You are amongst snow-capped mountains, which are really the foothills of the Southern Alps.  Lake Tekapo is a bright blue colour because of small particles in the water from the surrounding rock. It all leads to stunning scenery.  On the drive there you go through flat green plains, rolling green hills and expansive brown hillsides and mountains. There are lots of pretty places throughout the world and this would be one of them, especially since the sun was shining. It was tee shirts and shorts weather. After a sumptuous dinner we adjourned to the hot pools for a soak. There are pools at three different temperatures. One has mini waterfalls cascading into it and our foster daughter just loved the feel of these on her back. (Pania is a sufferer of Retts syndrome. She is very limited in what she can do, but when her eyes sparkle and she is smiling she lights up the world) The weekend was well worth doing.

We have driven through to Christchurch to catch up on my sister and my terminally ill brother-in-law who has been in a lot of pain. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

A beautiful muddling along day of doing things...

Holiday day three - Blissfully distracted all day.
I have been muddling through the day. I went out to the garage to repair the roof of the verandah over the workshop. I went looking for something, which meant some corner needed tidying. Then I found something which needed repaired so I did that. Then my wife mentioned an electrical cord we had running to a freezer which has since been discarded. So I pulled the plug off the end and removed it. That led to sharpening screw drivers. That led to tidying the bench throwing out some rubbish, sorting out to containers, installing another shelf, repairing a candle stick holder, replacing a plug on another cord, throwing out a couple of broken tools (yes I sometimes throw things out) moving some wood from workshop to firewood bin,  renewing the cord in the weed eater, doing some weed eating... etc. etc etc.  ...and so it went on all day. I have had fun muddling through the day in and around the workshop and garden. The roof of the verandah is still not fixed but I did have an hour and a half walk up and down Mt Cargill. That's what I call a holiday day! In the photo you can see some bench surface.  Two days ago you couldn't. :-)

Just thinking about ministry...
When I was at Theological College in Melbourne we had special guests one afternoon. They were full time Workplace Chaplains. The thing I remember about their presentation was that they were very critical of the Church.  They even came across as being quite bitter. They ranted about its irrelevance, about the lack of support and its unwillingness to be involved with the community. Here we were a bunch of enthusiastic ministry students thinking we were God's gift to the Church but these chaplains really challenged our thinking. We were keen to "build the church" etc etc. but these guys were essentially saying "you are wasting your time"! Even then, because of my experience as a plumber frustrated with church life, I tended to agree with them, so I was not as horrified and defensive as my fellow students and lecturers. I just hoped that the Church would change during my time in ministry.   Years later before I became a chaplain I was invited to be a part of a national ecumenical gathering of "people on the fringe of the Church's mission".  Mostly the participants were chaplains of various sorts; military, hospital, workplace, school. Once again I found that the chaplains were very critical and impatient with the Church which they saw as becoming more and more irrelevant. I remember both times being impatient because the people who were pushing for real and relevant change seemed to opt out of the church, when the Church really needed people to hang in there and be change agents.  (I have often thought this about liberal thinking ministers - contemporaries of mine, who started out as traveling companions but have long since jumped ship and left the church to be run by fundamentalists who though modern in style drag the church backward ) Today while happily muddling I got to thinking about my life and my job and remembering these people and the issues involved.  Forty years after that first encounter there has been little change in the directions these guys would have wanted. (In fact I think the NZ churches were and are behind the Australian counterparts in terms of community involvement)  I am a Church minister AND a workplace chaplain. It is an interesting mix and the same impatience resides in me.  I am determined not to get bitter though. I have seen too many old and bitter ministers - I think many older ministers who have a liberal streak in them have ended up with a form of post-traumatic stress.  The experience of hanging in, compromising your essence while trying to minister has caught up on them. I tend to think the issue is that the Church needs to really rethink the heart of the gospel. What is the essence of following Jesus? We need to explore how we can word that in today's language. This is a bigger job that just translating first century thought forms and metaphors. It involves encountering the culture of today and trying to find out how our culture, our world would express the essence of Jesus. Dare I say - "Son of God" "Saviour" "Redeemer" "Atonement" "heaven" "hell" "last days" are all first century concepts reflecting issues and the world view of that day. Jesus is relevant for today, but how do we communicate that relevance? But it is much bigger than just language and thought forms. I believe we need to be asking questions about the shape of the Church. Looking at the essence of Jesus, what shape should the Church take? We have continued to see the Church as "parishes" and being focused on the Sunday worship "show" and getting people to fit into the "Church culture". Maybe there are other shapes, alternative ways of community, ways of servanthood, and ways of relating to the community that more truly give expression to Jesus in today's world?  It is not a matter of being more efficient in "Church Growth" but more a matter of being a true expression of Jesus. Only in my current ministry have I been able to make just small steps (toes dipping in water) toward a different shape for the church.  It really has been impossible (I am not skillful  enough) to truly communicate the issues to even the Church leadership.  I am not bringing most of my congregation with me though they are allowing some changes to happen. The congregation does not have the resources to fulfill the dreams and I am running out of time, ability and energy. But at least I have hung in there and am trying. I have wondered. Someone once said, "It is easier to give birth than to resuscitate the dead." Maybe if all the people who have opted out continued to think and work on new models better options (because I think there are lots of models) would be around today and the real Church would not be so far behind the eight ball? Just the way my mind has wandered during while repairing, tidying and weed eating.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Sport, getting old and my day.

NZ Sports people...
When I read the newspaper during breakfast this morning of course I could not miss the fact that NZ had won the Rugby World Cup. It was all over the paper, seemingly on every second page. But in browsing the paper I discovered a couple of other NZ sport success stories. Our cricket team in Zimbabwe chased down a reasonable Zimbabwe total in a 50over one day game. One of the batsmen scored a century, another scored 87. They have now secured the series. Our netball team, the Silver Ferns, beat the Australians by one goal in Perth. It is interesting, in a number of sports NZ does quite well. NZ triathletes do well at international races. Our rowing teams do well. Our yachting is a way up there with the best in the world. We are a small country of 4 million people. That is just a fraction of the number of people in many cities throughout the world. I think we can be proud of our sporting prowess, even if we are not the best in the world, we do well to be up there among the best.  Just now the country has gone mad celebrating the Rugby World Cup victory. A street parade in Auckland, more coming in Wellington and Christchurch. After Pike River coal mine, earthquakes, recession news and now a shipping disaster, the Rugby World Cup feels like some good news at last. Still just a game though!

Getting Old
Yesterday I told you I took a service at Ross Home an elderly person's rest home. I confessed to not looking forward to doing these services. Here is my reason for this. I expose an in built weakness and perhaps fear. I have been going to Ross Home to take services about 3 times a year for well over 20 years. You go there and the congregation arrives in the chapel. Some come under their own steam, walk in and take a seat. Others come with "Zimmer Frames" assisting their walking. Still others come in wheel chairs, some with staff or family pushing, others with motorised ones. Others come in Lazy Boy/bed type things on wheels. Some are "with it", others seem to almost be "on the way out".  The thing that gets me when I go there regularly is that you slowly see people dying.  For example; There were two sisters in the rest home. Dignified well dressed ladies who would come regularly to church. They were good to converse with, positive and intelligent. After a while you visit and one looks a bit vacant, the other is in a wheel chair. Then another visit, and there is only one sister. Then one Sunday the remaining sister was in a Lazy boy / bed thingy and looking sad.  The next time I visit she too may not be there.  It is the reality of rest homes.  People are, as the TV show title says, "Waiting for God". But I find it so hard watching these active lively people slowly getting more and more frail, then not being there. There was a couple I met four visits ago. They sat and told me their story. They were a joy to meet. The next time I visited she was alone. Now she is in a wheel chair looking sad.  Perhaps I am not facing my own mortality? Perhaps I am not liking the prospect of getting older myself? But I sometimes find it sad watching these people in the tail end of life. I am impressed though, because so many of the people themselves are still positive and doing the best with what they have left. Anyway I confess to you my unease.

Monday.. the first day of my holiday week.
I am on holiday this whole week. I am mostly holidaying at home. Today, because of my busy weekend I slept in. ... nice. I got up and went out to the garage. The lights had not been working and I had checked the bulbs and the fuse. I got out my tester and discovered the switch was faulty. I dug in my old cardboard wine cask of hoarded second hand bits labelled "Electrical things". I found a switch that would fit, attached the wires, screwed it back in place and all is going.... satisfaction! Cup of coffee. Then I got out my weed eater and had a session on an area of long grass for a while. We had a little TV on a shelf in the kitchen, which looked very precarious. The shelf was too small for the TV, and the earthquakes in Christchurch made me realise I should secure it. I went out to the garage and found an old microwave shelf. I adapted this and installed it in a better place and in such a way that the TV is actually screwed to it. (The TV is there so that whoever is cooking - most often my wife - can watch the news while preparing food.) - again... satisfaction. I then replaced some old rusted brackets on the old shelf  with new ones I inherited from somebody. Then, having tidied the workshop up, I went back to cutting long grass with the weed eater. A 6k jog finished my day. I love that the stuff I have "hoarded" means I can do things for nothing. ( My running friend even picked a bolt up off the road for me yesterday... she knew I probably would if I saw it... she usually just rolls her eyes when I stop to pick up handy things) I love problem solving and fixing things up. I enjoy the fact that I have gathered enough tools and machinery to easily do most jobs. And - I was pleased to be able to jog that distance. The first day of my week off was good.

My running friend is a very good photographer. ( http://daybydaybyjane.blogspot.com/ ) Upon reading my blog about "Death" as she walked through a nearby cemetery she took these photos and put them together.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Weekend waffle (NZ won the Rugby World Cup)

I have had my normal busy week and a very busy weekend.  On Friday night we had our Drop-in centre then we watched the bronze medal match for the Rugby World Cup on the big screen at the Church.  It was after 11 when I arrived home. I thought of all I had to do before Sunday and said to my wife, "I really do not think I have enough time to do what I need to do!" I was up early on Saturday morning. I had a "to do" list. The Church Newsletter - I had a sort of wedding ceremony to work out (A nephew who had got married in Germany was having a NZ wedding and I had been asked to do whatever ceremony there would be.) - I had quite a bit of work to do toward the morning worship - I had a Sunday afternoon service to do at a elderly persons' rest home and had to prepare for that. We had to leave for a 3 hour drive to the wedding in Cromwell by 1 p.m.  I worked hard all morning though I had a little bit of distraction with a phone call that went on for a while. We drove to the wedding. I was nervous, but it went OK. I enjoyed catching up with my brothers. We shared in the meal and sat around chatting and meeting people. Then at 9:45 we drove off toward home arriving home at 12:35. I was late to bed.  Again I was up early on Sunday to do final preparations, prepared power points,  led the Sunday service and then did a good job of my afternoon service.  I don't look forward to these rest home services, but when I do them and do them well, the old folks really appreciate the effort. It was so nice hearing them say to one another, "I'm glad I came to Church today. That was good!"

I have a week off now. I hope to do some gardening and then we spend some time with our family. It is a funny feeling. I have already clicked on the readings for next Sunday out of habit, then suddenly thought "Why am I doing this?" I will wind down and enjoy my week.

Just now I am watching France play NZ in the final of the Rugby World Cup and so far it is a bit of a nail bitter. Here's some photos. The first two are where the wedding was held. Pretty nice place to hold a wedding.  The last one is a group of people gathering in Church to watch the final on the big screen.

Extra late stop press: The All Blacks (NZ rugby team) won the final of the Rugby World Cup! It was a tough match and they only won by one point! Phew! As I delivered people home tonight I could hear partying going on all around town. .... In spite of my cynicism the Rugby World Cup event has gone well in NZ. I still don't like the business/politics of it all, but there has been quite a festival atmosphere about it all.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

"Death" - What's ahead?

I went to "supervision" today and as I reviewed the last month's work I realised I had led two funerals. Before those in the previous month I had two other funerals.  I have been thinking about this death experience. At funerals I look at the coffin and know the person is not "in there", only the body that will soon be discarded.  When I talk with terminally ill people, it is hard to imagine that some time soon they will not "be here".  What is this mystery called death? What can we say about it?

"If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew, to serve your turn long after they are gone" ("If" by Rudyard Kipling)
First I want to live in such a way that my deeds continue to have impact for good long after I have gone. Harry and May Smith; George & Bessie Symons; Laurie Findlay; Joan McDermott; Doc Haddon; Mrs Michaud & Alec; Ian Chadwick; Ian Corlett; Gordon Stirling; Ken Clinton; Doc Bowes; Maud Benjamin; Joyce Brown (mum); Angus Brown (Dad); Bob Crafts; E L Williams; Pat Taylor; Alice & Geoff Doust; Betty Galland; etc. etc. - all these people are dead. They have been a part of my life but have died and gone from this world.  They are not now here. I once could talk with them and touch them, but now their physical presence, their body has returned to the elements. ... but have they "gone"? They have touched my life in some way with their love, their example; their lifestyle. There is a real sense in which they are alive in me! Their being still finds expression in the way I live. They have helped in some way to shape who I am, and their life, their kindness and their love still impacts the world through me. I, and the many others they loved and shared with, will impact the lives of others for good, and once again their life will continue to be "alive" in this world.  There is a real sense in which when we die, we do not "go". We are still doing our thing in the lives of those we have left behind and loved. We are not isolated individuals in life, in a real sense our life penetrates and permeates the lives of others we share with, for good or bad. I believe that every act of kindness goes on to continue to impact the world for good. If this were all that "eternal life" signified I would be happy. I will seek to live the way of God, the way of Jesus, the way of love. I would love to leave as positive a legacy in terms of love as I can in the years I have.

"Let nothing disturb you. Let nothing frighten you. Everything passes away except God." (St Theresa)
As my mother lay dying she had this verse open on the bedside cabinet. It was important to her. She was sometimes in pain, she was often uncomfortable but in her weakness she would whisper, "This too will pass." After I had visited Christchurch and in particular the inner city area in the days immediately after the big February quake, I was quite shaken. Of course I experienced some of the after shocks, but at a deep level I was shaken. I knew now that even the earth under my feet could not be trusted. Even when I was walking the dog the day after I returned home, I looked at the road and the hills surrounding me and thought, "I can't trust these any more! Once I saw these as stable and everlasting but now I know this is not true." Everything changes!  But I do believe in a movement of love called "God". "He" has been here forever, long before me and will be around, bubbling away like yeast in ginger beer, long after I have been forgotten. "He" is the constant. When I die, whatever is at the other side of death, whether or not there is conscious existence, "He" will be there in love. The old hymn goes, "Change and decay in all around I see, Oh thou who changest not, abide with me." Even if all that is after death is my consciousness reunited and lost in this great flow of life and love we call "God" I will die at peace. God, who I have lived for and with, still lives. "His truth ( the truth I have joined myself to)  is marching on"

"Death is but a transition from this life to another existence where there is no more pain and anguish. All the bitterness and disagreements will vanish, and the only thing that lives forever is LOVE. So love each other NOW..." (Elisabeth Kubler-Ross in "On Life After Death"
While she talks of experiences I find hard to understand, I found this little book so helpful on the subject of death. She spent a large part of her life with dying patients, studying the process and watching the experience. In the book she gives pretty convincing evidence of existence after death. From memory, she sees our real selves as a bundle of psychic/spiritual energy or entity, and that at death this is released from our temporary homes and moves on to be in a different existence of love. She gives evidence from experiences of death that we are met by and encounter loved ones. While some of her thinking is spooky, most of it makes sense and comes out of solid relationships, conversations and reflecting with the dying. She writes; "At the moment of death, all of you will experience the separation of the real immortal You, from the temporary house, namely the physical body. We will call this immortal self the soul or the entity, ....... When we leave the physical body there will be a total absence of panic, fear or anxiety." That's nice to know. She says that we experience unconditional love. I like the Apostle Paul's statement, "I have become absolutely convinced that neither death nor life, neither messenger of Heaven nor monarch of earth, neither what happens today nor what may happen tomorrow, neither a power from on high nor a power from below, nor anything else in God's whole world has any power to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord!" ... not even death. I kind of think that each of us is too precious as individuals, and that somehow, whatever is over the horizon we call death, we consciously exist in a deeper experience of unity (oneness with God and others) and love. I don't claim to know everything about this subject for sure, but I do know that ultimately life and love are stronger than death. I sense the presence and power of love in life now.  When I love, life has significance that is bigger than death.

That's tonight's musing.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Love is the rhythm!

I have seen this before but a friend put it on Facebook the other day. I like it. It sums up my beliefs pretty simply. It also has that sense that life is a dance, it is people, it is movement and adventure.  Of course you can push any analogy too far and ruin the "feel" of it. I like the "feel" of it, and the "feel" or "spirit" of it matters.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Coffee break post...

I am busy doing "Church office stuff" and decided it was coffee break time. I have seen three posters that I thought worth passing on. One in an email and two posted by friends on Facebook. I usually find myself impatient with the Dalai Lama. Perhaps I don't understand his position or purpose, nor do I know all that he does, but to me it is easy to sit above the "real world" and pontificate.  I get similarly frustrated and annoyed about many liberal church discussions and indeed prayers. Its OK to talk about stuff, but often it just feels like mental gymnastics with no real action to follow. (Though I would class myself as theologically with them) To me real, mud-on-your-hands, confusing, challenging involvement-to-make-a-difference is what matters. But I do like his perspective in this quotation. Similarly I get annoyed with superficial positive thinking "proverbs" which often do not touch the harsh realities that people face. ( e.g. I have a brother-in-law, a lovely bloke, in the hospice at present. I feel so sad for him and my sister. Neither "deserves" their predicament.) This one that says "nobody said it would be easy, they just said it would be worth it" brings some balance and significance to positive thinking. The last one is just for fun.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Concrete and "who" won?

I can lay concrete
I had offered to lay some concrete to finish a couple of jobs on an old Habitat for Humanity house. Last Saturday my wife and I went up and put the boxing in. I worked out where to put it and the levels. It really was a small and easy job but I was a bit nervous thinking that the "experts" in Habitat would be critical of my skills. I measured everything and then last Monday did my best maths to work out how much concrete I would need. (I had worked it out before but I wanted to check) We ordered the concrete to be delivered and on Saturday we went up to lay it. The truck was half an hour early which meant my daughter and son-in-law who were coming to help, had not turned up yet.  We did have some help from an ex-carpenter Habitat guy, but I was pleased he generally trusted what I was doing. I went about the task of screeding it and floating it. When we had washed up everything I "looked at it and saw that it was good." (As the Bible says about God and creation.) We had a little concrete left over which we used on a couple of little projects for the lady in the Habitat house next door who had helped us. I am soo not confident! I was relieved that it looked "professional" - the levels were OK - and that the quantity was right. (The house holders or their visitors later marred it by stepping on it.) I can do such things but I do lose sleep over them before hand. If it was my house I would not worry a scrap. I do love fixing things and physical projects. It is a great feeling looking at the completed job. The local Habitat is now buying old houses and tidying them up rather than building new ones. Apart from some difficulties that I have with recent Habitat policies, I would rather be building something new. We looked at the recently purchased house and I wasn't inspired.

"We" did not win!
I get annoyed when people watching their teams celebrate by saying "we won". We did not win. We sat in our lazy boy chairs and watched! Our team won. The NZ All Blacks won against the Australian rugby team.... I enjoyed the win but I had nothing to do with it. It is funny that the same people who say "we won" will very quickly say "they lost" if their team loses. I actually think a lot of people who sit and watch sport would be better off if they got off their bums and did some sort of sport or exercise. Anyway just my little gripe for the day.

NZ's All Blacks won!

I have just watched the semi final of the Rugby World Cup. It was Australia against the All Blacks. While the All Blacks have won all their World Cup games, some of their play had not looked up to scratch. They had not faced a really tough team. There were a couple of top players injured and out of the team. It was quite funny because there was quite a lot of nervousness about tonight's game. Australia are a young, talented and fit side. They beat the All Blacks the last time the teams played. They are coached by a very able NZ coach, who was turned down by the NZ Rugby Football Union. It was all lined up really to be the "final" that was a semi final. Sorry my Australian readers but a very clinical and accurate All Black side out played the Wallabies. NZ won 20 to 6. We had to listen to an Australian commentator all night who up until the last 3 minutes thought an Aussie miracle might happen.
We have had the Church open for a lot of the Rugby World Cup games with the games playing on the big screen TV we have up the front. Not many extras walked in and watched with us, but a few of us have enjoyed sitting with hot drinks, sometimes soup, chippies and biscuits to enjoy the matches together. NZ should be able to easily beat the French in the finals next week. They have beaten them solidly in an earlier World Cup game when the All Blacks were not playing as well as they are now. But it is not over till the ref blows the final whistle in the final. Go All Blacks! Sorry Aussie mates. There was a collective sigh of relief throughout NZ when the final whistle blew. For now the world has righted itself again and God is good.

Friday, October 14, 2011

World Peace... yeah right!

Tomorrow begins the inter-faith week of Prayer for World Peace. I find myself concerned about the world we live in. Early in the week I met the local Coptic minister who had visited Egypt. He told of the difficulties Christians there faced. We in NZ have been mortified because a ship sailing under a "flag of convenience" with safety issues has hit a reef and is spilling oil and containers into the sea off one of our favourite summer beach areas.  There has been a mindless backlash against some people from the Philippines because that is where the seamen on the ship came from. A man told me of a seventeen year old daughter of a friend of his attempting suicide. (It is interesting that in places where there is abject poverty there are few suicides?) There is the spreading "Occupy Wall Street" movement now hitting NZ cities. I have for a long time been concerned about the increasing gap between rich and poor. It concerns me too that "Money rules". The corporate world has too much say in countries' priorities and systems. Then again I often find myself with "right wing" feelings. I encounter people at drop-in centre and other circles who whine about their predicament or try to bludge money off me, and I want to say, "Good grief, get off your bottom and do something for yourself!" I look at some of their life decisions and ask myself, "Why should I be trying to help them?" - Then I think I need to try to understand more about why they are like they are. I read that racism against immigrants is growing in the UK. I am deeply aware that my Maori son is an immigrant there. Anyway I guess I have felt a little bit of despair. The world we live in, our human systems, societies and interactions seem to all be crumbling, fragile and confused. The world needs prayed for. I share some writings from people.

“It is not non-violence if we merely love those that love us. It is non-violence if we love only when we love those that hate us. I know how difficult it is to follow this grand law of love. But are not all great and good things difficult to do? Love of the hater is the most difficult of all. But by the grace of God even this most difficult of things becomes easy to accomplish if we want to do it”
-       Mahatma Gandhi  

“Fortify me with the grace of Your Holy Spirit and give your peace to my soul that I may be free from all needless anxiety, solicitude and worry. Help me to desire always that which is pleasing and acceptable to you so that Your will may be my will”.
-       Francis Xavier Cabrini.

AAnd ..my son in Edinburgh took this photo. 

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Further to my last post...

When I showed my wife the statement "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" she exclaimed. "Goodness gracious!" she said, "That's selfish! Everybody matters!" She went on to say that it is part of the individualism of our age and contributes to the problems in families, communities etc. I think there is something in how you express what you are feeling. That can be done constructively. But the statement on its own can lead to problems. We had a guy who was completely like that. He would call a spade a spade. He has a brilliant mind. You have to know your stuff if you debate with him. He is well read and thinks a lot. He came to our drop-in in our early years, but he was so much trouble for us. You never knew when things were going to flair up because he was so blunt in saying what he felt. If he was talking to you and thought, "That's stupid" (as we all do sometimes) he would say, "That's bloody stupid" or worse. On one hand he was refreshing because he just let it all hang out and said things normal people just think. I often had to stiffle a laugh because he voiced what I was thinking. But as a consequence he is banned from nearly every pub in town, every drop-in centre except ours, every mental health support group and now he just sits at home and plays computer games with himself. It seemed hard to communicate to him that if you want to mix you have to modify your behaviour and you just cannot blurt out any and every feeling. He once said that I was the only friend he had. Yet he of any person I know lived by this proverb, "Be who you are and say what you feel because those who mind don't matter and those who matter don't mind" We can bandy these sayings around, they sound OK, but in real life they just don't work.

Can I really say what I like?

A friend put this on her facebook page.

I love this statement, but is it really true? Example... Sometimes as a chaplain people are down right rude to you just because you are a chaplain. I have said a simple "Hello... I'm the new chaplain." and people have reacted rudely. Can I say what I feel then? I would not keep my job. I would never get another opportunity to break through with that guy.  Another example. A lady from a group using our church hall rang up and complained about the noise of another group using the upstairs hall. I was just trying to relax after a nine and a half hour day. I don't particularly like her group anyway. They leave out their chairs for me to put away. They inconveniently store stuff in our cupboards. They use the hall once a month and don't really pay much for it. ... Now if I said what I felt when she rang up interrupting my dessert... well it wouldn't have been very "minister like" language. Sometimes too you disagree with your boss. If you say what you feel you can pay for it. It is best to sometimes to keep a reign on your tongue. Some of the World Cup Rugby players are learning that they can't say what they feel. The hierarchy in the rugby world don't like it. .. in fact I think it has got to ludicrous levels in this RWC. .. who sees mouth guards? I know one keen rugby coach who was not going to any games because he determined it had stopped being a sport and was just business.  Sometimes it just does not pay to say what you feel.  To get Biblical, James has a bit to say about this:

James 1:19

19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger;

James 1:26

26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.

James 3:5-8

5So also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! 6And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. 7For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, 8but no one can tame the tongue—a restless evil, full of deadly poison.

Now I am not usually a Bible basher, but I think James has a point. I know from experience how hurtful a tongue can be. I think James is right. Maybe when I retire I can be more free to say what I think, because just now it does matter what people think, I could lose a job or two. But always I am "called" to be responsible, constructive and caring in what I say. That's the ideal, I fall far short of that. What do you think?

Monday, October 10, 2011

Use it or lose it.

Weight gain and lost fitness.
I was looking to put an old pair of jeans on to do some work around home on my day off. They used to be loose, but now they don't fit comfortably! I have put on weight! Because of my sore knee and lately because of the remnants of the flu, I have not been running for months. Even though I have been walking up my mountain and going for a bike ride every now and then I have put on weight and lost quite a bit of my fitness. Also for around thirteen years for several months each year, virtually every Saturday I was a builder, working on Habitat for Humanity homes. This regular work, combined with regular exercise kept up a certain amount of flexibility and "hardness". I have pulled out of this sort of commitment to Habitat. On Saturday I did some digging, sawing and pegging out of a little bit of boxing on a Habitat house. I discovered I had lost some of that "hardness." (I do know that by not being involved in Habitat my Sunday services are better planned... I used to have to work really late on Saturday nights if I had spent 8 hours on a Habitat site on Saturday.) I realise though that I am in danger of becoming old! I could become a portly old retired guy who watches life, instead of participating, "getting physical" and doing challenging things. I have to work out ways to work around my sensitive knee, but I need to get back into regular exercise. But the remnants of the flu still make me wheezy.

Today I had a day off. I went up town to buy a couple of things, one of which was to fix the windscreen wiper on the car. When I got home I was annoyed because I had bought the wrong sized part. ... town is about 11k away. I headed out to clean up an area of our section. I couldn't find a wire container I wanted to store twigs and bark in. Again I got annoyed and agitated. I got out the weed eater and it didn't start straight away. I got the little electric one out but it appeared to have a fault. I went back to the petrol one and it started. But I noticed how easily agitated I was getting. This is my day off! I began to see that I have been working pretty hard in recent weeks. I have always seemed to have extra things thrown in. It was a grey, windy day, which did not help my mood. My wife knew I wanted to fit in exercise and encouraged me to go do it. So at 5:30 p.m. I went "up my mountain". ... boring!... no never boring. I have begun to look at my diary for this week and it too is very full. I host the inner-city ministers at our drop-in centre room for a meeting. ... I sometimes struggle to feel at home with them. I have a supervision session with the student on placement and a couple of other extras. I keep trying to lighten the load but everything conspires against it...e.g. people die and I get asked to lead their funeral!

Here is why I never find my mountain boring...

There was a little breeze blowing there today.

This is a picture of gorse... It was imported into NZ by early settlers for hedges between paddocks. It is now an annoying weed. But the flower is pretty. You can sometimes see big expanses of yellow on hillsides. We had a pair of Rosellas in our backyard today. They would not sit still for a photo opportunity. They are a very colourful Australian bird. The story is that Rosellas escaped from a sailing ship which beached in a bay over the hill from here (Blueskin Bay ... Waitati) and that is why there is a population of them in this area.  Not all imported Australians are as ugly as the possum.

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sunday reflections

I took a funeral on Friday. I have had four in relatively close succession. This one was for a father of a firefighter. The man had been a mechanic at the fire station years ago before his retirement. As I explored his life and character I could not help but be impressed by what people, including his children, said about him. He was a genuine caring husband, father and a real gentleman, and it was a privilege to lead his funeral. One of the things I notice in the "shindig" (Refreshments) after a funeral is that the conversations tend to be more "real". People cut out trying to impress one another with stories, status and rubbish and because of their common reminder of their mortality, are more "real" with each other. It is often good human interaction. This morning in the service I was trying to illustrate this depth and that there is deep joy in such openness and depth. I set up on a coffee table a whole lot of ornaments and toys... toy cars, boats, a caravan, war figures, a motorbike and model furniture and household gadgets.  Behind all these, I had some ornaments of people and a cross, symbolising the important things in life - love and people. To illustrate the desire to cut through the "superficial rubbish of life" and get into the truly profound, I put an arm on the table and swept all the toys and ornaments onto the floor, leaving the people and the cross. People in the pews got a bit of a fright to see all these toys splattered on the floor and giggled a little, but I think I got the point across. I meant to point out that this is actually what happens in life. We gather our toys and material possessions and sometimes value them more than people and relationships. But at some stage, whether it is when we are too old to play with them, or when we are put into a single room in a rest home or eventually when we die, all our baubles and toys will be dumped. I talked to the family of the man who died and they are beginning the process of tidying out Dad's house already. We are so wrapped up in measuring ourselves by our baubles, when ultimately they mean nothing.
Today I spoke from the book of Philippians. Paul wrote that book from prison where he was expecting to be executed. He fills his letter with the words "joy", "rejoice" and "peace".  Where does he find this joy? It is an internal joy, irrespective of circumstances. I decided that this joy is found in our involvement in the purposes of God, of love, of justice. (I don't mean the purposes of religion or church) It is deep and lasting meaning in life. We know that the purposes we are living for are worthwhile, are bigger than us, are making a profound difference to people, and will out-live us. It is a deep sense of partnership with "the deep and sacred" in life.  Unfortunately most of us are happy to just live for moments of "happiness" or times of "having fun".  Sometimes I see sad people desperately trying to find happiness and fun in all sorts of forms, sometimes destroying relationships, themselves and others in the attempt. The joy that Paul discovered does not deny us happiness or fun, but adds a deeper dimension, and is still there in pain, suffering and set backs. I have enjoyed exploring this subject this week. While, particularly as I have matured, I experience this joy at varying levels of awareness, it is so difficult to communicate to others.

An atheist gives great advice about joy. I think he is right.
George Bernard Shaw was an atheist but when he writes about the true joy of life, I agree with his statement. He discovered what many churchgoers fail to discover.

This is the true joy in life, being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one. Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy. I am of the opinion that my life belongs to the whole community and as long as I live, it is my privilege to do for it what I can. I want to be thoroughly used up when I die, for the harder I work, the more I live. I rejoice in life for its own sake. Life is no brief candle to me. It is a sort of splendid torch which I have got hold of for the moment and I want to make it burn as brightly as possible before handing it on to future generations.

I do like the bit about "Being a force of nature instead of a feverish, selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy."  I come across people like that. To be honest, I think I sometimes could be described in that way. But I do identify with his directions. Jesus put it, "When you lose your life, you find it. When you give you receive."

NZ national anthem is playing on TV. The All Blacks will play Argentina in a few minutes. Just watched Australia grind out a slim win against South Africa. I never thought I would be cheering for South Africa! This Rugby World Cup saps your energy a bit. Two games in one night!

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I worked in my office all morning. At lunch time I chatted with friendly people in Space2B. I went from there to share with the family of the man whose funeral I am leading on Friday and they talked of their Dad, their childhood and how special he was. I then called at the fire station because some of them knew this man. I sat and chatted there. It was not getting precious other work done, but I finished the day feeling very privileged.  For about six hours people had allowed me into their lives and their experiences of life. I came away feeling the warmth of human friendship and a sense of "the sacred". People connecting with people and being allowed to be part of that. It was just precious to be where people had no hidden agenda, and were just real and open with one another.

Last Thursday at St John ambulance some nice things were said about me. One of the nicest communications had no words about it. A man I had shared with during a crisis in his life came to me in the midst of a group, reached out his hand, grasped my hand firmly, looked me intently in the eye, nodded and smiled. He shook my hand, grinned at me, nodded again and left. It was a heartfelt and deep connection, a deep act of appreciation for moments shared. I felt fulfilled.

I was reading today an article by Paul Tillich. He says "Joy is nothing else than the awareness of our being fulfilled in our true being, in our personal centre."

"Emptiness is the lack of relatedness to things and persons and meanings. It is even the lack of being related to oneself."

In these experiences of relating to real, open, friendly people and having the privilege of sharing life with them, I find fulfillment, I discover real joy. It is deeper than "fun" and more rewarding than "happiness".

For this I am deeply grateful.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Flattery and other stuff..

Exercise report
Today was my day off. I cut a hedge, I fixed things on the car, I cut some wood, I fixed a little light gadget, I played with my router (not the internet thingy... a wood working tool) I trimmed a bush, and generally mucked around. In spite of drizzle I decided I would dash up the mountain tonight as exercise. I went up the Organ pipe Track to the top, turned around and came straight back down. 41.5 minutes up, 28 minutes down, which I didn't think was too bad. I jogged much of the way down and I must admit my knee hurts a little. I did a mountain walk Saturday, a run Sunday and a walk today... all noted on my calendar... I want to create a habit of daily exercise... we'll see.
Thumbs up for initiative
When I arrived at the car park for my walk I encountered a lovely Maori guy. He had obviously been hunting possums. He told me his story. He had been made redundant from his work and had set himself up as a possum trapper. He did jobs for people who were troubled by possums eating their garden. He got DOC permits for various areas and was catching possums to pluck. He reckoned he made at least $400 a week. "Better than sittin' at home waitin' for a job to come up." he said. "I don't want to go on the dole, save the money for the old people. I'm doing OK." He reckoned 12 - 14 possums gave him enough for a Kg of possum fur. I have forgotten what he said he got per kg. He was a nice friendly natured guy and I admired his initiative. Possums cause untold damage here in NZ so he's doing something valuable for the environment.
Oh you flatter me....! 
I got this email which reads like this.... "Dear Dave, Sustainable Dunedin City invites you, as one of Dunedin's leading doers and thinkers, to help map... etc." Wow! Don't I sound important? I wonder how many people they said that to as they invited them to their program?  It reminded me of a man on our Night Shelter Committee. He is a professional fund raiser for a social work agency in town. He and I were working out part of the recent street appeal. We had to ring a lady neither one of us knew, to ask her to collect for us. I told him he had the gift of the gab, so he should make the phone call. He rang her and I listened in to the conversation. Just the way he related he made her feel the most important person in the world. He certainly could word things nicely. I tend to be shy and a bit blunt. There are people good at such things... these sustainable Dunedin people make me out to be a "leading doer and thinker"! They just might suck me in to their plan. It's not just the flattery, I like what they are trying to do.
Speaking on Sustainable thinking...
I saw this on Facebook and pass it on. I like it. Can never figure people's anti-wind-power feelings. It seems to be a great option to me.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Sunday run.

I actually ran!

Because of my knee which became sore with running toward the end of last year, I have not run for months. I decided that today I would give a run a try to see if my knee holds up. At my brewery chaplaincy on Friday my friend weighed me and I was the heaviest I have been in years. I really have to start running and exercising regularly again. I jogged 5k and this my first run was OK. We had the hottest day in Dunedin for a long time. It was nice to feel the warmth and feel mobile again. I can do it! Maybe I will aim to run in the Masters games in February.

My dream

As I walked up the mountain yesterday I had an insight into my dream for the Church, with Space2B as an important part of that. I saw trees with extra growths on them. There was the main tree trunk but growing on that trunk were vines, mosses and other plants. My vision for the church is that there will be the Church - the "tree trunk" with other life enhancing community groups growing on, supported by and encouraged by the main plant. The Church will be a community with porous boundaries, not just those who congregate on Sunday. We will be on a journey expressing "Jesus values" and discovering deep truths and community along the way.
It is happening a little bit. We are encouraging and assisting a few life-enhancing groups. Space2B has some difficult things to cope with and we need to work through. I guess my dream will not fully happen during my working life. (2 years left) I don't think we have the full backing, the understanding or the commitment to really implement the dream.  It is hard for people to think outside the square and change from traditional concepts of "church". I will continue with it because I firmly believe it is a relevant shape for an inner-city church and gives true expression to a Jesus involved in the community. We will have to see what happens in the next two years.


I have been wondering what I am going to do when I hit 65? On one hand I look forward to a time when I don't have  responsibilities hanging over my head all the time. I also look forward to a time when I can escape some of the frustrations I feel in both church and chaplaincy organisations. On the other hand I don't like to think that my abilities, experience and the learnings I have will be just shelved and that I will just sit around. I still want to make a contribution.  It will be interesting to see how I feel closer to the time.

A H Reed memories
A H Reed
After I walked to the top of Mount Cargill I continued on down the road and then turned up the "A H Reed Track". It is named after a well known Dunedin identity who died in 1975 at the age of 99. He was one of the founders of the Reed Publishing house. He wrote over 100 books in his time, was an interesting character and one of my heros when I was growing up. He visited schools and gave talks. He supported worthy causes and was well known as a walker. He loved to walk and walked the length of NZ twice if my memory serves me correctly. In the late 1960's my then girlfriend (now my wife) and I went on a 21 mile walk from the centre of Dunedin walking north with a large group of young people. It was called "Operation 21".  I cannot remember the cause. It was a peace walk or a fund raiser for hungry people or both. We dreamed of a better world... I'm still that teenager dreaming. A H Reed, then in his 90's joined us and walked at least half way to Waitati. I remember being in a group walking with him and chatting on the way for a time. I have just read his very first book, it was a birthday gift from my son. It was hand written for his wife during WWI. He was stationed at a military camp in the North Island and went on an Easter weekend walk around areas in the centre of the North Island. He was forty years old then. My father in law knew him, talked with him from time to time and went on a couple of local walks with him. We had a man in our Church who accompanied him on one of his length-of-NZ walks and he told me a little about the adventure. I sat on a seat on the A H Reed track to have a drink on Saturday, and these memories of a real gentleman and scholar came back to me. I guess he contributed to my love of walking in NZ country side.