Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, December 31, 2012

The last day of 2012

Today was my day off but it was a day when I had an appointment with my doctor to change my catheter. I had heard all sorts of painful sounding stories about this process so I looked forward to it like when I was a school boy waiting to get caned.  I first went to my favourite hardware store. We went to the cafe there for morning tea and to look for a letterbox suitable for the night shelter. We then ventured to the Medical Centre. We waited for half an hour before the doctor showed. He ushered me into an appropriate room and I disrobed. I lay there full of apprehension, but knowing deep down I could cope. He did the deed. There were uncomfortable parts to it, but not really painful and I left quite relieved about the whole process. I thanked him very much and told him that I hoped I would not need this one changed before I had the long awaited operation. He said, "I hope we don't have to do it again. I hope it happens soon for you." I came home, had lunch and rested up to recover from my ordeal. Later we visited two people in hospital before coming home for a lovely evening meal. 
I saved at least $60!
We were wandering up and down the isle at the hardware store stewing on letterboxes. The ideal one for our cause was a $180 one but that looked too flash. The next best was around $64. None we looked at were ideal for the situation we have for a letterbox for Phoenix Lodge. I got to the end of the isle and my wife had grabbed a $64 one. I took it reluctantly and was walking past some lengths of plywood - the same as this letterbox was made of - and I rolled the letterbox on the sheet. "I could buy one of these and make a better letterbox for $6!" I exclaimed. "But it's your time?" my wife objected. "None of those fits the bill." I said, handing the letterbox back to her. "I'll make it tonight!" We bought a sheet of ply and I have been enjoying myself tonight making a letterbox.  I am a bit of a hoarder. I have an old milk container labelled "hinges" full of hinges I have collected from old furniture or doors being thrown out. I have another such container with "latches". I gather screws, bits of metal and nails others would throw out. With these I built a suitable letterbox to attach to a fence at Phoenix lodge. It has a slot for the newspaper, a latched door at the back and a stainless steel roof.  Much better than the $64 one we would have purchased. And I enjoyed my time. 

I hope 2013 treats you well. Happy New Year. I wish you lots of love, health and well being.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Traditional Sunday night post.

I thought after my negative rant on Friday I should report to my readers. On Saturday morning I felt reasonably OK so I went in to the Church to help discuss and install a new screen for power points etc. and continue with still sorting the place out after Christmas Day dinner. I worked away there but as I did it became obvious to me that I was not OK. I had pains with physical exertion, I got hot easily and cold again and did not have much energy. When the job was done we came home again and I lay in bed.  Late afternoon I bit the bullet and decided to go to the doctor on duty at the medical centre. I struck a woman doctor whose listening skills and approached proved all my criticism of doctors in my last post wrong. She gave me antibiotics which seem to be working already. 
Just like old people..
My daughter led half the service this morning which meant I had an easier time. My wife and I went out for lunch then came home and went to bed. While we both had books to read, we ended up snoring happily for a lot of the afternoon.  It does not seem that long ago that if we were home alone and went to bed in the afternoon, it was not to sleep! But today we were old people, after a very busy and taxing week. It was blissful to be able to switch off and blob out. 
People are good.
At the end of each service we have a "plug time" where informal announcements are made. I spent sometime listing off in my mind people I wanted to thank for their help in the Christmas dinner. I began to feel a bit emotional. I could see in front of me so many people who had supported us in this venture. There is an elderly couple well into their eighties who turn up each year and during the week have volunteered for moving furniture and sorting things out. They tell me they will be there next year. I ended up giving a more general kind of "thank you". 
But some???
There was a big intimidating man who walked into the Church at the end of the service and wandered around looking at everything and talking to people. I had encountered him before and heard of him. He was asking for money and I suspect looking for anything, like a handbag to steal. I purposely kept an eye on him, and he noticed. I could see him checking me out from time to time to see if I was watching. He was actually offered food, but he turned it down. He took handfuls of some special christmas cookies we had out. He eventually left, but what do you do? I got a phone call last night, there's a woman with alcohol and drug issues back in town causing disruptions around Phoenix Lodge and Night Shelter. What do you do? They don't accept the help they most truly need. How do you protect others from them? Sometimes it would be easier not to know they exist.

Friday, December 28, 2012

A selfish, frustrated rant.

Today I came home from work at lunch time. My wife took me out to a cafe to have lunch. I looked at the food in the shelves and the hot drinks being made and said, "I don't want anything!" Now anybody who knows me knows that when I turn down food I must be sick. I came home and spent much of the afternoon in bed trying to sleep while preparing a sermon in between times. I had been moving furniture back into place after the Christmas dinner and found with each bit of physical exertion I had spasms of pain. Every step seemed to hurt and hot flushes came over me interspersed with feeling cold. My wife told me to go to the doctor and I grumped, "Doctor? Its because of doctors I'm in this predicament! Every time I see one I finish up worse!" 
A few years ago in October/November I had a bout of glandular fever. I got over that but in the process of getting blood tests I suggested they do the test for enlarged prostate. The doctor told me the PSA reading was high and she did the usual digital test. A hospital appointment followed and after more fingers, tests and a biopsy they said I was clear of cancer. But the biopsy left me with some inconvenient changes in functioning. Life went on and a couple of years later I was once again referred to the specialist who after tests asked me if I wanted another biopsy. I asked him what he recommended and he simply said, "Its up to you?" I remembered how it set me back so I decided against it. A few years later, and further blood tests I got sent back to the specialist. He decided I needed another biopsy. I eventually got this in January of 2012.  My prostate was enlarged, and there was inflammation but they could not see any cancer.  They didn't treat the inflammation? In the week or so after I discovered I was having incontinence problems at night. These were infrequent at first but by mid year were becoming an embarrassing nightly occurrence. My GP referred me to the hospital again who put me on a heavy dose of antibiotics. For a month I felt sick but it made no real difference to my condition. I went for a consultation and a bit shell shocked came out with a catheter and bag. I was retaining big amounts of fluid. The first few days were almost unbearable with spasms that doubled me over in pain. I persisted and things became comfortable. Nearly three months down the track I went to my GP for a catheter change and he put me off till after New Year. I feel like my system is beginning to smell, in spite of all the washing I can think of.  I have tried not to let the "bionic plumbing" system hinder my work or exercise, but I must admit it sorely tries my patience and persistance. I am on a waiting list for a TURP operation sometime! (They have recently given me 6 months supplies of stuff so that's not very promising.) I was coping OK but on the night of 23rd December I did a lot of physical moving of furniture in preparation for the Christmas Dinner. I noticed I was peeing blood and had pains "down there".  We discovered on the 24th the heavy Christmas tree had fallen over and I tried to fix it by myself. The ghastly spasms returned and through Christmas, boxing day and till today I have had painful troubles, struggling to sleep, with any physical exertion causing pain or discomfort.
Listen Doctor!
Out of the experience I have lost faith in doctors and the medical system. It seemed like every contact and procedure I had made the situation worse.  I wonder if I would be in the same boat today if I had just ignored my problems? I suspect the medical procedures have mucked something up. At nearly every doctor's visit I have been on I have felt I was not listened to. Whether it be my GP or the hospital doctors I have just begun to tell my story and they jump to the supposed remedy! There never has been any real discussion and questions were answered as briefly as possible. Just "here's what we are doing... now get out the door" kind of thing. "It's my body!" I want to scream.  I wonder too if they had to wear one of these contraptions if the waiting time for an op would be so long? It is hard going when you have a busy lifestyle, it might be easier for retired blokes to handle. 
It's not funny.
I am intrigued at how many people think it is funny. "Old men's peeing problems...ha.. ha." When I asked the doctor if the catheter meant an end to my sex life, he said, "Yup!" with a grin on his face like that was funny! Imagine joking about breast cancer in the same way? All hell would break loose! I joke about it to try to make light of it for my own sanity, but that does not mean others can! It is not very funny to live through and there is a good deal of uncertainty still the future. They always cover their butts by saying, "As far as we can tell, there is no cancer." They then say, "There is no certainty about that."
Summer disappointment
I was looking forward to a summer holiday with tramping and some physical exercise and work. Swimming and having time to catch up on running was something I was looking forward to. If the last few days is anything to go by, I doubt I'll be doing anything like that.  I will be just having to endure watching others do stuff.
Now I know only too well that there are a lot of people worse off.  I used to be proud of our once egalitarian medical system, but, like in many areas of society it has become part of the "haves verses the have nots" divide. It has become two systems. One system for those who can afford medical insurance and a totally different one for us poorer folks. I also know that in spite of this the NZ medical system is still better than many countries. But I'm just letting off steam, and I am allowed to. 

Anyway, that's my rant. I hope I improve over the next few days.  It's a bugger getting old.  Tonight I have been comforting myself by listening to old country and western songs on YouTube.  I promise to be more positive next post!

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Privileged ...

More positive feedback
Today I received an email from a woman who volunteered at our community Christmas day dinner.  We first got to know her through Space2B. We helped her move flats a few weeks ago.  Space2B has the motto of "Connecting people, celebrating diversity and engaging communities." The experience of the Christmas Dinner and an email giving feedback like this makes me feel like we are being successful and that what we are doing is "of God." She writes....
Dear Jean and David
Thank you so much for a wonderful and very memorable Christmas - My first in Dunedin! The food was delicious and your perfect organisation of such a huge day stunned me totally! You have indeed become like family and it made it so much more bearable to be away halfway around the world from my mum and siblings on Christmas.
Fondest regards....

That is so cool to be able to help people to feel "like family". I have a new sister! What a privilege! 
We go a long way back...
As I was handing out the gifts at the dinner I came to a simple man I have known for some time. He teased me and the people nearby were surprised. "It's OK" he assured them, "David and I go back a long way. How long is it Dave?" he asked. I didn't have the energy to do the math so I just nodded and said, "A long time!" As I drove home I began to think about that long time, which probably has been 24 years. He lived with his mother and father and was made redundant from the simple but long standing job he had. I used to visit the home, and they would come to church from time to time. The mum died of a fast paced cancer and I led the funeral. The Dad and this man lived on in a smaller unit. The dad was a veteran of WWII. He was a prisoner of war in Italy and told how he escaped for some time before recapture. He had interesting adventures to speak of. I recall getting the son involved in our walking group. In 1994 I was called to the hospital. The dad was dying and I sat for a long time beside his bed chatting with this simple son, until a brother arrived from further afield. In due course I conducted the funeral. This man comes to Christmas dinner, drops into the drop-in centre from time to time and somehow keeps in touch. As he said, we go "a long way back". I have shared a big part of the journey of his life. What a privilege!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Boxing day... the day after.

I have had my breakfast and I am back in bed.  For a number of reasons I am a bit sore. I think struggling with a heavy fallen over Christmas tree on Christmas eve by myself with my condition was not a good idea.  Fronting yesterday's Community Christmas Dinner was made tougher with extra spasms and pains going on.  We live and learn.
I read the paper this morning and there was a photo and article. It is an interesting time and I cannot hope to communicate the various "feels" you get while being a part of it. 
The day always starts with me erecting a carport/tent in the car park of the Church before 8 a.m. It is used as an area to rinse the dishes before they go to the dishwasher. Before Christmas I had an email correspondence with a an unknown woman in Sydney who had searched us out. She was passing through Dunedin on Christmas day and offered to help. Just as I was beginning to build the carport she pulled up, the first of our volunteers. We worked together erecting this tent as if we had known each other for a long time. During the dinner I saw her looking after our Rett Syndrome foster daughter. After the dinner she was back out packing up the dishwashing gear in our tent. "I'm back where I started!" she yelled as I passed by.  When she left she promised to email me next Christmas with a reminder about some ideas we had to make the carport job easier. She had been there more than six hours.
As we were packing up a retired firefighter came up to me. He had been rinsing dishes though I did not know he was there. He was an officer when I first started as chaplain. His rank was disestablished and he eventually took retirement. They later put him on the National Fire-Commission, the body that is the ultimate authority in the NZ Fire Service. He had volunteered at our dinner a couple of times when he was in Dunedin. He now lives else where, but whenever he visits his daughter on Christmas day, he'll take leave of family duties and sneak along to the dinner to do dishes and catch up. It was so warm to connect with him.
We had a great bunch of volunteers from the community. A farmer and his wife came some distance. He was a big broad shouldered man with a cheeky smile and a lot of fun. A young guy just turns up every year.  "Gidday Dave" he says as he enters the church. He knows the ropes and just fits in doing things and seeing gaps to fill. He has done this for the last 16 dinners! No fuss, just comes, works and goes. A Habitat for Humanity friend and her husband come. They have done a few with us and are just so valuable, again getting into the spirit of the event and knowing what needs done.  The firefighters we had this year did their job conscientiously, really in tune with us, bringing a lot of laughter.  They were well organised, used to working as a team and work well with others. A woman came hesitantly, offering her services with her teenage son and daughter. I had arranged for her to pick up three people, but it turned out she drove a little mini and these three were bigger folks! We swapped her for another group. She worked so hard, but when she left she appeared at my shoulder saying "Good bye" and "Thanks for a great day, I'll be back next year!" "Is that a promise?" I said. "Too right!" came her reply. Another volunteer, an American academic working at our local University, had interesting adventures. He had two women at his table who tended to argue, so he had to pacify them. He was astounded at the greediness of one of them. He had another man who wanted to sing an item. He was sure it should not happen, but he told the guy he would ask me.  He said to me, "Just nod as if you are saying 'no' and I'll pass it on." When he left I thanked him for his work. He said, "No.... thank you, doubly so. It has been a great experience." 
This year I made a point of going around giving out the gifts to each person. This meant I got to meet each one. I was surprised because I knew most of their names. As I gave the gift I said "Merry Christmas ... (Mary or Bob or whoever)" mentioning them by name. (They did have name tags) As I gave a gift to one lady I was distracted by a question from another person, and I didn't say "The words!" "I didn't get a Merry Christmas!" she complained. I wrapped my arm around her shoulder and said, "Merry Christmas ....." It is funny how valued this little personal gesture is. I was so pleased because so many of them responded with gratitude, warmth and friendship. There are the greedy ones who take it for granted, but over all, you feel you have made Christmas better for a lot of people, even for them.
My wife, daughter and son-in-law do much of the organising. I get the appreciation, but as a foursome we direct the energy, love and warmth of a great bunch of volunteers. I tell volunteers that overall in charge is "God. But second in charge is Angela (my daughter) and sometimes she tells God what to do."  She is well organised and keeps things running smoothly.
I learned that one of the guys on our Night Shelter Trust was going to spend Christmas alone. I told him to come. He helped set up and assisted with transporting people. When he got home he sent me this email; Hello Dave,
Thank you and Jean and all your cheerful helpers very much
for a wonderful Christmas dinner and celebration.  I got all
my charges home safely and they were full of praise and
gratitude for the dinner and trimmings as well.
Best wishes for a peaceful, prosperous and healthful New

After the event I visited my 97 year old man in hospital taking him some goodies from the dinner. My wife took some food to another drop-in centre man who was looking after his aged and infirm father. I came home and collapsed on my bed for sometime to recuperate. It has been a busy few days. We had a light dinner with my daughter and son-in-law, made some contact via phone or skype with our other kids and opened presents.
Today it is back to earth. I have to call at a fire station, look into Church service preparations for Sunday and make a visit. My wife spends the afternoon at the Emergency Department as a St John Friend of the Emergency Department volunteer. Life goes on.
A whole lot of volunteers arrived at the dinner earlier than the time we suggested. We were not ready for them and they were standing around wanting jobs looking at us expectantly. I looked at my son-in-law and said out loud, "What do we want to do?"  "I want to go home!" he said in exasperation with a grin. (I'm not sure what the volunteers thought) .. but then we settled down to direct people to their jobs. I'm glad we didn't go home. It was a Christmas day well spent.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Christmas eve eve...stuffed

The fallen tree when I gave up trying to hoist it up alone.
In my last post I told of setting up for Christmas day. The Christmas tree man delivered us a massive tree. My son-in-law and I set it up and tied it with ropes.  Some volunteers did a marvelous job decorating it. I got a text from one of my Church members who was visiting the Church this morning that the tree had fallen over. I was busy sorting out the transport for some people but I eventually arrived at the Church. I thought I could easily hook up a couple of ropes and gently pull it up, back in place. It was so heavy! My rope broke. I re attached a rope, had some others tied to stop it falling over and began to wind it up. I nearly had it vertical after giving myself a blister and rope burn, but a tie I had on it broke and it fell in a different direction onto the floor. At that point I gave up and took 25 legs of lamb out to Marlow Pie factory for them to cook them for tomorrow's meal. My son-in-law had arrived and upon returning to the Church we decided to saw about a meter off the bottom to lighten the tree. This we did and with still a lot of grunting and pushing and pulling we erected it again. I have done some really tough physical work today and have arrived home with sore muscles everywhere. (I am also peeing blood in my fancy "bionic plumbing system" - too much heavy stuff or rough and tumble stuff seems to set that off, its a bit tender.)  Young people blithely say, "You are as young as you feel." It doesn't quite work that way. I try to ignore my condition and age, but tonight I know I am not twenty one! I am sore and exhausted.
There is a 97 year old man in hospital who was my childhood minister. His health has improved, for a time there I thought this was his time. He has been a regular at our Christmas dinners, taking pride in the fact that he was the oldest volunteer. I called into the hospital to see him on my way home. "How are you?" I said. He looked at me glumly. "I'm puzzled" he replied. "What about?" "How am I going to get to St Andrew Street Church tomorrow?" he said.  I told him that maybe he could give it a miss this year, and I promised to bring a bit of Christmas cake in and tell him how it went after the meal. 
Speaking of aging I received this link in an email early today and the song rang bells. I have been singing the chorus all day, "Senior moments and brain farts."  I share it just for fun.
However old you are, where ever in the world you are, have a great Christmas Day. I hope you experience life-affirming love. Thanks for reading my waffle from time to time.

Christmas Dinner set up night.

We have been setting up for our Christmas Day dinner tonight. I did not count the volunteers, but there seemed to be heaps, giving cheek, laughing and enjoying each other's company. We transformed the building from a Church to a banquet hall (perhaps a REAL church?) in a few hours. 100 balloons, a big Christmas tree, decorations and colourful table settings. A great night made enjoyable by the lovely people who came.

Changed from this....

.. to this...

... and this.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Riding a wave....

What a funny last couple of days....
Yesterday I got given for our Community Christmas Day dinner...

  • A Christmas cake
  • 2 hams
  • two bags of odds and ends food bits...
  • Some money...
  • A ham for our personal use ... (if we need it for Christmas Dinner that's our call)
  • 2 other hams...
  • some more money...
  • help with picking up tables...
  • 20 Kg of extra potatoes....
This latest gift came at the right time...
We had a phone call with the last offer just after a man came in and semi booked in up to 30 international students! I have not got a clue where we'll put them? But we will cope, that I'm sure of. 
I remember a story about loaves and fishes... where was that now?  :-)

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My day.

Here are some highlights from my day...

  • On the second page of the morning newspaper there was a big picture of me and the Church with a question and answer article about our Christmas Day dinner. Part of my breakfast reading.
  • A man I had known since I was a child interrupted breakfast by ringing to ask me a question. He lives alone and his much loved dog had died a few days ago. "What was the passage in the Bible where it speaks of God knowing when a little bird dies?" 
  • I drove to the office and about a block before the church I spotted a woman from one of my chapliancies. Her father in England is gravely ill and she left today to go see him, say her goodbyes, and to look after her mum. I pulled the car to a halt as soon as I safely could, leapt out and yelled her name. She came running up and we embraced warmly holding each other tight. I was so pleased to see her before she left. I felt her pain but also that sense of privilege of being on the journey "with" her.
  • In the office I had people ringing and booking in for Christmas Day dinner. As well as that I felt shivery and not well. I took some pills and had a coffee.
  • A man called to see me and remind me he was helping me on Friday. But his main reason for calling was to see how I was.  (knowing my plumbing problems) We talked and when he left I thanked him and said it was always nice to see him. He said, "No... thank you... I wish I could spend more time with you!" 
  • A man who visits our Space2B and drop-in came to my office to chat and catch up. Then I talked with folks in Space2b enjoying their friendship. The street sweeper who has his lunch there had purchased "Chai seed" for me so that I can spread it on my porridge. "It will help your cholesterol." he assured me. So nice of him to go to that trouble.
  • A woman rang to tell me she would drop off some goodies for the Night Shelter tomorrow.
  • A man came in to say he wants to sing at our Christmas day dinner. He has a Christmas song to share with his banjo! He is "different" but it will help the fun.
  • I had a coffee with a couple of guys where we talked strategies for fundraising for the Night Shelter. It was so good to spend time with these two where we were on the same wave length and keen for our cause.
  • I came back to the Church to learn that a man had donated a ham for the Christmas Dinner and that a firefighter had called at Space2b.  Yesterday I had rung him to see how he was after recent surgery but had only left a message. He had decided to drop by to see me, but had obviously appreciated my attempted contact.
  • I then visited an elderly man in hospital who is not in good shape. I spoke with his daughter about prospects and we swapped phone numbers. This man was my childhood minister and is now 97 and is very frail.  As I walked from the hospital back to the office I could not help but think of his influence on my life. While we are very different, he led me to feel free to think outside the box in my faith. When others around were "flat-earth" christians he gave me permission not to leave my brains at the church door. He gave me a good springboard from which to journey in faith. If this is his time it will be part of my life ending too. I hope it isn't his time, I really don't want a funeral thrown into Christmas busyness, but that is selfishness. The visit brought a level of sadness along with uncertainty and stress.
  • In between all these activities I worked on ideas for Sunday's church service, wondering how to retell the Christmas stories in a relevant way.
  • I counted up all those booked in so far for Christmas day dinner - 240.
  • I visited the fire station after the change of shifts at 6 p.m. and talked with the crew who will come and assist on Christmas day. Along with giving a lot of cheek they were ready to do as much as they could to help. While there I learned of the improvement in health of a retired firefighter who had been critically ill. I feel an affinity with his family. I knew him well before he retired and I conducted the wedding ceremony for a fire fighter and his daughter. (She is a paramedic in St John Ambulance) My wife also has links with his wife. They are both St John Ambulance Friends of the Emergency Department volunteers. I was pleased with the better news, though he is still seriously ill.
  • I had an evening meal with my wife, daughter and son-in-law as we planned the final issues of staging the Christmas Day dinner. We worked out what needed to be done. 
I am about to go to bed, but thought I'd take this time to reflect on my roller coaster day. It is an interesting journey with so many aspects to it. 

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Sunday stewing

Looking down on the Taieri Plain from about halfway up Flagstaff

After half an hour of walking my destination is the tower on the skyline.

I enjoy the little things on the way like this moss on the rock. It seemed to glisten in the sun.

This looked like a landscaper's rockery - but it is just the way nature made it.

Phoenix Lodge clients
Yesterday I went to Phoenix Lodge. This is a facility run by the Night Shelter Trust where we accommodate guys out of prison wanting to sort their life out. I went to find out what was wrong with the oven. The guys there are generally warm toward me when I arrive. I am not naive. I know they struggle with the rules and trying to change the lifestyle they have been used to. I like them, but I know they have a long hard row to hoe. Is there any chance of employment? Their income does not give them a lot to spare. They have a lot of down time on their hands. I would love to have the time to take them tramping. I feel like they could do with just some good old low key relationship and friendship, but infrequent visits and quick contact is all I can do. I am the chairman of the Trust that provides their accommodation. It is not my role to care for them, others do that, but it does not stop me wanting the best for these guys, and trying to dream up ways they could be more supported. Life is tough for a lot of people, and I find myself wanting to help. 
Last week I managed to fit in a run and two walks up Mount Cargill. Today my normal Sunday running friend was ill, so I had to choose what to do. I decided to walk the hour and a half into Swampy Summit and back again. The walk in goes steeply uphill to the top of Flagstaff. Then you go down, and up, and down and up, and down and up, and up and up and up. The "ups" are steep and rough. On the way in the sun was shining and it was hot. (for Dunedin) I had thought of taking a hat but had decided against it - big mistake. I was really feeling the heat, and could feel myself burning and dehydrating. At one stage half way up a very steep hill I sat for a brief moment under the shade of a bush with my lungs bursting. I filled with self-doubt. "Maybe I should just turn around and go back to the car?" I said to myself. Then I remembered a picture I saw while gathering illustrations for power points this morning. It was a picture of an athlete looking exhausted with the words, "Your brain will give up long before your body!" So I climbed out of my hiding place and kept plodding up the hill. I was so pleased to arrive at the summit, where I sat and had a drink, a banana and an apple, before heading back. The cloud had gathered so the return walk was cooler, quicker and easier. I pushed myself hard today. My lungs were bursting and my heart was pounding. For a time on the way in I was really exhausted, but was pleased I had the mettle to stick at it. When I finished (it was exactly three hours) I felt so pleased with myself. Physically and mentally I had triumphed.
If you compare yourself with others....
I walked from the car park to the top of Flagstaff in 20 minutes which is not a bad effort. As I reached the summit I came alongside an "elderly couple" who arrived as I arrived. (They were probably my age) They proudly declared the time they had taken from the car park to the top... twice as long as I had. Smugly I said, "Twenty minutes for me! It's a steep pinch isn't it?" and carried on my way feeling superior. About half an hour later I was still feeling superior, but struggling up a steep hill almost to the top. Over the top came a runner, just in shorts, hat (sensible guy) looking cool and calm. He was probably 15 years younger than I, but looking good for his age. Six pack abs, wiry looking muscles all over and running like a gazelle. "How are you?" I gasp, struggling for breath. "Pretty good" he said enthusiastically, without the hint of any shortness of breathe even though he had just completed a climb. Jealousy filled my mind. Oh to be that fit. No longer did I feel superior. Then I remembered this line from the Desiderata. "If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater or lesser persons than yourself." "Just keep walking and enjoy the climb!" I said to myself. 
Love the open spaces...
I said to my wife when I was deciding what to do, "I think I'll do Swampy. It will be good for my soul." The track is surrounded by flax, tussock and small shrubs. We are so lucky, barely five minutes drive from the centre of the city you are walking on an open country ridge. I find myself being replenished inside by the openness, the birdsong, the plants, the isolation and the expansive views. It was indeed "good for my soul".

Thursday, December 13, 2012

On TV again..

Photos from the top at around 9 p.m.

A TV star!
I ended up on the local TV for a three minute interview about our Christmas dinner. I did a similar interview earlier in the year about the Night Shelter. I find it a bit daunting. The lady interviewing is asking questions prepared for her so it does not feel like a normal conversation, there is not the same sort of rapport. Another experience in life.
I went up my mountain... 
We have long twilights at this time of the year. It is relatively light still at 10 p.m.  I have promised to use this time when I have a free evening to do exercise so last night I went up my mountain. Lovely in the evening sunlight. I slept so well after it too. I was so tempted to just blob, but was pleased I made the effort.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Searching for change (iii)

We need thought out statements promoting values. 
We need people living lives of compassion & passion sending ripples of goodness through the world.
This is my third and final ramble about finding a way ahead. Sorry if I've bored you, but its my blog so I can do what I like. :-)
1st. Value Statements
When I began as chaplain at St John Ambulance in Dunedin I noticed on the wall in the kitchen where everyone has lunch this set of statements...
This is a place where people care about each other as people.
We will.....

  • listen to each other non-judgementally.
  • let a person finish their comments without interrupting.
  • make positive rather than negative comments.
  • make everyone welcome so they feel part of our team.
  • share our good/bad times confidentially.
  • praise the work/achievements of others.
  • have fun in our daily lives.
I thought it wasn't a bad set of suggestions or directions for a workplace. When my brother was principal of Brockville Primary School here in Dunedin there was a similar set of statements that highlighted the values of the school. I was very impressed with them and wrote them down somewhere, but have since lost them. On the schools website it lists the values as;
  • Responsible
  • respectful
  • honest
  • kind
  • safe
  • caring.
We live in a very secular and pluralistic society. We have a range of religions and people with no religion. We have a range of ethnic groups. It struck me that maybe "somebody" should put forward a similar set of statements that could be accepted and promoted as "These are the New Zealand values or ideals. This is the sort of society we want to build in which these values are esteemed." Surely some sort of common statement could be drawn up that transcended politics, religions and ethnicities? It would allow the values to be taught openly, to be promoted and to become a part of Kiwi identity. 

Anyway, just thinking aloud. I share a couple of other statements that I think are worth lifting up. First a Maori proverb...
He aha te mea nui ote ao, he tangata, he tangata, he tangata. (What is the greatest gift in the world? The people, the people, the people.)
Another statement I like from President Obama when he was a senator..
"I believe there are many paths to the same place, and that is the belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as people, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."
Yet another statement is of course the Charter for Compassion...

The principle of compassion lies at the heart of all religious, ethical and spiritual traditions, calling us always to treat all others as we wish to be treated ourselves. Compassion impels us to work tirelessly to alleviate the suffering of our fellow creatures, to dethrone ourselves from the centre of our world and put another there, and to honour the inviolable sanctity of every single human being, treating everybody, without exception, with absolute justice, equity and respect. 

It is also necessary in both public and private life to r efrain consistently and empathically from inflicting pain. To act or speak violently out of spite, chauvinism, or self-interest, to impoverish, exploit or deny basic rights to anybody, and to incite hatred by denigrating others—even our enemies—is a denial of our common humanity. We acknowledge that we have failed to live compassionately and that some have even increased the sum of human misery in the name of religion.

We therefore call upon all men and women  ~ to restore compassion to the centre of morality and religion ~ to return to the ancient principle that any interpretation of scripture that breeds violence, hatred or disdain is illegitimate ~ to ensure that youth are given accurate and respectful information about other traditions, religions and cultures ~ to encourage a positive appreciation of cultural and religious diversity ~ to cultivate an informed empathy with the suffering of all human beings—even those regarded as enemies.

We urgently need to make compassion a clear, luminous and dynamic force in our polarized world. Rooted in a principled determination to transcend selfishness, compassion can break down political, dogmatic, ideological and religious boundaries. Born of our deep interdependence, compassion is essential to human relationships and to a fulfilled humanity. It is the path to enlightenment, and indispensable to the creation of a just economy and a peaceful global community.

I suggest these statements because I think we need to be promoting such issues. Without having such issues as values talked about and taught, we can drift into a society where the greatest value followed is for me to seize as much enjoyment for me as I can, with no thought or consideration for a wider circle. We can develop a very individualistic society with no sense of solidarity or connection with others. There may have been a time in western society when the Church had a major say in shaping society, but that no longer is true. One of the reasons I have stayed in the church and in ministry is that it at least attempts to grapple with and promote wider values. With a powerless Church or a life-negating religion, and in our pluralistic community, there needs to be secular base from which values can be presented and encouraged. Such statements encourage this.
2nd. Living messages of hope
As well as statements promoting high ideals and values, our communities need people and groups demonstrating high ideals by their very lifestyle. People need not just to hear words about alternative values, but see those values exercised and lived. This is why I was so keen to instigate Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin. I believed that as well as providing for the needs of poorer people, it set ripples of generosity, connectedness and compassion off within the community. It is why I like to facilitate our Christmas Dinner. It gives people, volunteers, guests and the wider community a picture or experience of another style of life than the me-centredness we often slide into. I try to reach out in compassion because I believe that compassion is like a flu bug, it can be infectious and a community can be changed when enough people try it. 

Saturday, December 8, 2012

What a week?

I thumb my nose at old age and ill health.
A half hour run - in long trousers!
I have just been for a run/walk. We ran for half an hour before walking back to the cars, though I must admit it was a slow run. Because of my catheter and bag I had to wear long trousers and I must admit to feeling a bit stupid running in these.  It was a warm afternoon so I got quite hot, but I love the fact that I ran. It is my way of thumbing my nose at illness and old age. I am 64, I am waiting for an operation and am wearing this catheter and bag, but I am still running! Get stuffed old age! Get stood on ill health! You will not beat me - yet! 
A mad week.
I began the week knowing that I had a lot of work to get through. We had the Night Shelter Trust Annual General Meeting and I had to write up a report, prepare a leaflet, and print off the annual accounts, the report, minutes and agenda. I also wanted to do a powerpoint presentation to go with the report. I had to do my chaplaincies, we had an elders' team meeting, we had a new immigrants orientation tour happening on Thursday and I had a radio church service to prepare and record. I had my week sussed out and knew that every minute would be taken up. On Wednesday I began "work" at 8 a.m. by mowing the lawns at the night shelter. I finished the day turning off my computer at midnight. ...In the midst of all this the phone kept ringing with volunteers and guests booking in for Christmas Day dinner.  On Wednesday around lunch time I learned that a 94 year old lady, one of the elderly ladies of the Church, had died and the family wanted me to conduct the funeral on Friday at 3 p.m.  I had booked in to record the radio service at 2 p.m.  I agreed to it but my heart sank. I generally put a lot of work into a funeral (about 8 hours) and I wondered if I could do it justice? I had known this family since I was a teenager. When I got off the phone I had a bit of a melt down for a minute in my office. "I can't do this!" I repeated to myself out loud, "Ill never make it!" ....  But I did! By the feedback I got, I did it well. I am so grateful, by the grace of God I managed to do all the stuff to a reasonable standard.

  • The Night Shelter Trust meeting ... I got all the paperwork printed and stapled. I did a good looking leaflet introducing Phoenix Lodge. I did some power points to make the presentation of the reports more interesting. A couple of weeks ago I had printed off invitations which our secretary and treasurer had sent out and I had sent out a number of email invitations. Last year we had the Trust Board members plus one other man at our meeting. This year we had about 30 to 40 there with some great positive discussion taking place. I was so pleased, it was worth the effort.
  • The Radio Church service... I negotiated with my daughter for her to do part of it. (She had offered to do it) I did the first half and during a song dashed off to the funeral. It was not our best effort, a bit different but it was OK and we managed it.
  • The funeral... I typed up the first draft, then went on to the radio church service. I came back to the funeral making alterations and adding bits so that it fitted this person and this family. As I presented it I felt I was not on top of my game, but thought, "This is the best that I can offer given the brief time I've had." I was surprised, however, with the positive responses I received afterward. All sorts of people commented favourably. I would respond with my usual sort of, "Thank you, I hope it was OK?" and again and again I was scolded. "OK? It was more than OK, it was excellent!" So, much to my relief, I managed OK.
I hate choosing songs at Christmas.
At Christmas we hear and sing a whole lot of ancient Christmas carols. I am expected to happily choose and sing these carols, but I do not like them.

  • I believe the virgin birth and the birth stories to be metaphor, but the carols treat them as literal, and draw some questionable theological conclusions.
  • There are some horrible ancient world views within the carols. They depict a three tiered universe with a basically absent God, suddenly deciding to break into history, because humankind was in a mess.  As an example of these ancient world views; what's with "Lo he abhors not the virgin's womb?" Like the womb is something unclean?
  • They often express a substitutionary view of the atonement, which I think taken literally is a ghastly abomination.
It saddens me that these are perhaps the Christian songs most often heard by people outside the Church yet they give such a distorted view of what Jesus was on about. Anyway I console myself that I only have this next two weeks and next year's few weeks of Christmas and then I will no longer have to choose or sing them. 

Friday, December 7, 2012

Searching for real change (ii)

The need...
In my last post I had these words about the need for change...
The need for Change
"I was talking to people who worked with people released from prison. They said "If we get success with one in a hundred we feel good." I find myself frustrated again and again with people who will not change. I see heaps of people just existing in lifestyles that are sad and causing more and more problems for themselves and others.  Making news at the moment is that Party Pills are tested on animals! Also there are real problems with people who have various sorts of party pills, just talk to emergency workers about this. Binge drinking is also a major problem in New Zealand absorbing the resources of police, ambulance and hospitals. Why is it that we can't have a good time without these things? I encounter workers who rip off their bosses with bogus sick days and others with questionable ethics. We have religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world, that could escalate. We have a growing gap between rich and poor within nations and between nations. This gap brings about deep problems and issues. I have been stewing on what directions could be taken to help bring constructive change. First lets explore some historical responses."

I then went on to mention a couple of historical attempts at renewing the morality within society. I am very much thinking aloud here and exploring my thoughts... that's one of the values of blogging.

"Oh no! Another religious ranter!"
When I re-read my last post I suddenly thought that readers could possibly think that I am a member of the "Moral Majority" or some fundamentalist religious person who would rave against "stuff". One approach by such groups has been to do this sort of judgmental ranting. It is easy to find right wing religious groups who rant against homosexuality and gay marriage and see these things as morally decadent. There are others who rant against divorce and push a certain style of family life - forgetting the the Bible has within it a whole range of "styles of family" even among the "heroes of the faith". David and Solomon had a great time, and even Abraham enjoyed a freedom that would get me into trouble. Among these there are those who want us to go back to "the husband is the head of the house" lifestyle. Others rant against premarital sex like it was the evil of all evils. My grandmother tried to scare the hell out of us by ranting against the evils of alcohol. I have known Christians who have seen dancing as a sin and a sign of decadence eroding the morality of society. I could go on, there are heaps of examples of people who try to change morals by ranting against those they see as "sinners".  I hope I am not one of these! 
The problems run deeper
I of course am concerned that couples find it necessary so frequently to divorce. I would like happier families than we have. Though I am not a prude, I also am concerned at sexual promiscuity that seems prevalent, because I think it devalues personality and causes harm. I too have concerns about our abuse of alcohol and drugs.  However, I do not see that judgmental ranting approach as really getting to the heart of the problems we face. In fact, rather than being a constructive response I see it as adding to the problem. Many of the issues facing our society stem from people struggling to truly value themselves and others.  For example people abuse alcohol because of self-esteem issues.  Ranting against people, labeling them as sinners ultimately adds to the problem, people devalue themselves more. I recall a film where a right wing religious detective was forced to work with a prostitute. From memory she commented, "You and I are just the same." "How?" the detective said quite shocked at the comment. "I don't think sex is important so I don't care who I have it with. You don't think sex is important so you inhibit it."  Both were essentially devaluing a precious gift of life. Religious ranters are in danger of doing this, rather than being life-enhancing they can be devaluing a precious gift. One of our basic problems also is that there are deep divisions between people, walls of suspicion, prejudice and fear of "difference". Ranting against people, classifying people as "in or out" only increases these divisions.  As soon as people know I am a minister or chaplain, I often have people eager to tell me that religion is a negative factor in society, causing hatred and problems.  Religious people often race to religion's defense. "Of course" we think, "the modern Church is not like the Church of history, with burnings at the steak, inquisitions and crusades."  But perhaps we do the same sort of thing in more respectable ways, but still greatly contribute to the hurts of society? 

An approach to changing the morality of society must be attractive to people of various religions and no religion, deeply value human personality, be life-enhancing and draw people together into a sense of belonging and solidarity. 

No, whatever else I am, I try not to be a ranting, judgmental Christian, seeing morality as being wrapped up in external "sins".  Jesus ranted against the righteous-living religious leaders of his day, and also suggested that prostitutes could enter the Kingdom of God.

I'm still thinking... watch this space.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Searching for real change... (I)

I went for about a 30k ride on my bike tonight. This was the first bike ride since I have had my catheter and bag fitted. Might get a different seat?
The need for Change
I was talking to people who worked with people released from prison. They said "If we get success with one in a hundred we feel good." I find myself frustrated again and again with people who will not change. I see heaps of people just existing in lifestyles that are sad and causing more and more problems for themselves and others.  Making news at the moment is that Party Pills are tested on animals! Also there are real problems with people who have various sorts of party pills, just talk to emergency workers about this. Binge drinking is also a major problem in New Zealand absorbing the resources of police, ambulance and hospitals. Why is it that we can't have a good time without these things? I encounter workers who rip off their bosses with bogus sick days and others with questionable ethics. We have religious and ethnic intolerance throughout the world, that could escalate. We have a growing gap between rich and poor within nations and between nations. This gap brings about deep problems and issues. I have been stewing on what directions could be taken to help bring constructive change. First lets explore some historical responses.
William Wilberforce
I have always been impressed with the life of William Wilberforce. I am amazed at the tenacity he had to bring about change to the slave trade - it took him decades of hard often unpopular work. One of the other things he was a part of was "The reformation of manners". This was a movement trying to bring moral change in English society. He saw criminals getting on a downward track toward increased criminality. One of his emphases was to get people to take seriously lesser laws. He was deeply concerned about the type of society he saw around him and did things to try to increase the moral fibre of the population. His approach was based on evangelical Christianity, and knowledge of scripture, but he also tackled issues of education for the poor. 
Moral Re-armament
Beginning in 1938 American Churchman Frank Buckman began a movement for Moral Re-armament. Nations were re-arming in a military sense, but he claimed the answer to the crises facing the world at the time was for nations to "re-arm moraly". "Moral recovery creates not crisis but confidence and unity in every phase of life." MRA was based on four moral principles. 
  1. Absolute honesty.
  2. Absolute purity.
  3. Absolute unselfishness. 
  4. Absolute love.
The goals were ....
  1. Encouraging care and responsibility in personal relationships and family life, in place of "me-centredness" and blame.
  2. Strengthening moral commitment in economic life, in order to create jobs and tackle the root causes of poverty.
  3. Strengthening the foundations of democracy that guard against selfish interests, corruption and indifference.
  4. Forging networks among people from different faiths and cultures.
  5. Healing the wounds of history.
In essence MRA wanted to create "A hate free, fear free and greed free world."
MRA in New Zealand
I remember my father in the early 1960's going to some local meetings of the Moral Re-armament Group. Once when I was helping him in his plumbing work he explained its goals and dreams to me. He had some hesitations though he held some of the values. One outstanding figure in NZ was Canon Wiremu Te Tau Huata. He had been an impressive military chaplain during the war and advocated for Moral Re-armament in NZ. He wrote a song for his children that he used in his campaigns. (Some ALL black Rugby players singing)
The english translation goes...
"Line up together, people
All of us, all of us.
Stand in rows, people
All of us, all of us.
Seek after knowledge
and love for others - everybody!
Think as one,
Act as one,
All of us, all of us."

Frank Buckman died in 1961 and his successor in 1965. After that the influence of the movement faded. It had a lot of criticism with a number thinking it was a cult.

Searching for change..

Each of these people saw problems with the basic morality and directions of their society. They responded by searching for ways which will bring real positive and constructive change. Often governments try to force change on people by decree or law changes or through economic encouragements or discouragement. (Changing drinking age, taxing liquor etc) Ultimately I think people need deep hope and direction and to grasp a vision of a better way. How do we respond today? 

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Dunedin Christmas dinner & a weak week's end....

 Pictures from a Multi-cultural night held at Space2B recently.

Sunday Blues
My brother (Now very sick in hospital after a fall off a ladder last Sunday) is a minister in Australia. He has the "gift of the gab", the sort of guy who could sell fridges to Eskimos. He is older than I am and runs a successful church in Melbourne. I was interested to hear him say, "It's the preaching I find hard to cope with these days." I find the same, but probably for different reasons. Today after Church I said to my wife that "next year will be a long year. Can't I retire early?" (we are retiring at the end of 2013) To my surprise she responded with "Yes." Even she, who is the stable, optimistic, never-say-die, workhorse of the family is growing despondent. I guess I don't fit the ministry role any more, I feel I am on a different wave length than my congregation and it is difficult, probably for them and for me. Anyway a measure of Sunday blues has dogged me this afternoon.
Bounced back from the flu.
I had three days at home early this week feeling very ill with the flu. Over the last three days I have been improving. This afternoon with my friend I have jogged for 25 minutes. (walking back to the cars) I am not 100% yet but I was pretty pleased with how I coped. It was a good feel being active again. On Friday I had some concerns with my "bionic plumbing" (Catheter & bag) and rang my district nurse. She was busy telling me that such things happen if you are a bit strenuous. I informed her I went running and she had a laugh, asking, "Do you really?" 
Night Shelter Annual General Meeting
The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust has its AGM this Thursday night. I have yet to prepare a report. We are hoping to make it a bit interesting with the use of power points etc. I have a lot of work to do so that I can look semi intelligent at Space2B at 7:30 p.m. on Thursday. I spent a bit of time at Phoenix Lodge this week. I really think we are meeting a need and the potential for helping young men makes this venture worth while.
Christmas dinner preparations
My wife and daughter are buying things for the Christmas Day dinner. Pavlovas were on special at a shop so these were snapped up. Today lemonade was going for $1 a bottle at a supermarket, with a limit of four. My daughter and son-in-law bought 4 each. My wife visited the supermarket twice buying four each time. We have guests ringing up to book in and thankfully volunteers phoning up too.  I will enjoy the day, I always do even though this is the 24th year of running it. You might like to volunteer? Here is the blurb we send people interested in volunteering... It will give you some idea of what we do.

"This will be our 24th year that we have provided this meal. We offer a free meal and company on Christmas day. It is a hot Christmas meal and we seat people in tables of about eight to ten people with a host, so that there is the opportunity of conversation and care. People receive a small gift as part of the celebration and we sing a few carols just prior to dinner.
It is for any who would like company or need a free treat on Christmas day. We have sometimes had families who are in need, often had pensioners and others who find Christmas alone tough going. Transport is offered if that is needed on the day.

If you would like to volunteer there are three ways where we use volunteers. 
1.    On the night of 23rd we set up the tables, prepare vegetables and decorate the area. We start at 7 p.m. and people go when they want to. We try to make it a fun night with cups of tea, Christmas music playing and Christmas cake. Generally people come and enjoy the setting up process.
2.    On Christmas day itself we need responsible people with cars who can assist to transport people to or from the dinner. We give drivers a list of people (Generally just one trip each) and you are asked to ring your passengers on Christmas Eve to confirm pick up information etc. We get people delivered to the church by about 11:30 a.m. and generally taken home at about 1:45 – 2 p.m.  You may be willing to help in this way.
3.    On Christmas day we need people to do various things for a start. There are Pavs to cream and final things to prepare. Then when people arrive we need people to welcome them, give them a drink and chips and make them feel at home. We have one or two hosts per table who look after the people at their table. They get their guests’ food from the servery and eat their own meal with them, encouraging conversation and friendship. Then of course there are endless dishes to do, people take turns doing that. ;-)

Most volunteers we have really get a kick out of the day. It is simply good fun to be part of a big celebration. We try to treat all people with respect and friendship. There are a wide number of reasons people are there and a wide range of different types of people.

Feel free to ring me if you have any enquiries."