Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Gandhi said...

I have often been impressed by Gandhi's words. Like many great men he had his flaws but he had a great deal of wisdom. He actually lived out principles of Jesus we western Christians don't have the faith (read "balls") to try. I got these "Seven dangers to human virtue" off a Facebook post. Somebody pointed out that they were not original to Gandhi. I pass them on. They are worth pondering...

Gandhi's 7 dangers to human virtue
  1. Wealth without work.
  2. Pleasure without conscience.
  3. Knowledge without character.
  4. Business without ethics.
  5. Science without humanity.
  6. Religion without sacrifice.
  7. Politics without principle.
Somebody commented that his grandson added an eighth one....
8. Rights without responsibilities.

I quite like them anyway. I was going to go on a Church walking group this morning but during the night I lay awake and thought about a whole lot of things that I had not got done. I went to work and decided that I needed to try to catch up rather than spend a couple of hours walking. I have not yet caught up but I have made a dent in the work. In so doing I have generated some more work. I went upstairs during our lunch time Space2B. A couple of our Wednesday regulars were away but there were quite a few people in. One simple guy who always has a carer with him asked if he and his mates could go upstairs to the drop-in. They did and really enjoyed their space up there. He took responsibility for it and was so conscientious about it all. He had asked about it so he decided it was his responsibility to make sure everything was OK. I loved that. I looked at this bunch of people relaxing and relating in "God's house" and I think it is pretty cool. A part of my dream come true. I have been asked if I would take on a Social Work Student for a fieldwork placement. Apparently the student in question has done some Biblical studies. I meet with her next week. It will be interesting how she views what we do. What is my work? Chatting with people or administrative stuff? How do I balance things like preparation for services, administration, planning and spending time with people? It is funny that toward the end of my career as a minister I have not yet got such balance sorted.

Me taking a scary leap of faith at a minister's refresher during my first NZ ministry. I thought I was God's gift to the Church back then. Life is simple when you don't know what you don't know. Late 1970s I guess.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Back to basics brings balance

Vegetables for dinner
Ceiling panels primed and ready.
Wallboard waits for days off.
Seven eggs from eight hens - not bad.
Apples nearly ready to harvest.
Depression hits again...
Today has been my day off. It is also Otago Province's Anniversary Day, so many others are having a day off. (Many just add it on to their Easter holiday) I started the day quite depressed, partly because the weekend has passed without exercise - I was too busy on Saturday and the rain came tumbling down after I finished taking services yesterday. The other reason is that at the moment I am pretty flat about the work of the Church. I guess it is hitting me that I am nearly finished my career as a minister and I have not been able to fulfill my dreams of bringing real change to the church. I was a plumber and really felt like the Church had stopped communicating in language, issues and directions that the average Joe would understand or be interested in. I sensed a "call" to be involved in ministry to see if I could bridge the gap. Forty years later I come to the end of my career and the Church is still largely an "Island of irrelevance in a sea of despair." I have not been able to make the difference I had hoped for in my ministries. I have felt like I have wasted my life. I have tried to stick with the church while most of my contemporary colleagues have long since jumped ship.  But has this perseverance been worth the struggle?  In Matthew 10:14 Jesus is instructing his disciples for their mission. He says to them, "And if some home or town will not welcome you or listen to you, then leave that place and shake the dust off your feet." I get the feeling I should have listened to those instructions. I have felt basically as if I have not been listened to, and just maybe I too should have jumped ship, at least out of The Associated Churches of Christ? All that to say, that today I started the day really depressed.
Steps toward bathroom renovation, the joy of farm produce and a walk.
We are going to do up our bathroom. Today we went into the "Mega store" (Mitre 10 hardware store) and bought some wallboard, some board for the ceiling and some primer paint. (About $850 worth!) We borrowed a trailer from the store and brought the stuff home. We trimmed the ceiling panels to the right size and set them up for painting, then took the trailer back.  The other aspect to today is the enjoyment of food from the garden. Apple Jelly from our apple trees, eggs from our hens and firewood from our trees.  We had turnips, beans and potatoes from the garden, and there are heaps more of assorted vegetables to come. (I cannot wait for the time I am retired and I can really make this acre produce some food!) At around 5 p.m. I got my walking gear on, took an apple and an orange and my walking stick and walked up "my" mountain. (Mount Cargill) I sat on a rock at the top devouring my fruit, surveying the scenery and enjoying the evening sunshine. I then came down the hill to find that my wife had completed the painting of the ceiling panels and they are ready to be screwed in place. I look forward to this some night this week.... maybe.
Depression lifted...
At the end of the day I feel better. Of course there are still questions about the church and ministry that will never go away. But there is something about getting back to basics that brings good vibes into one's being. Working on or toward do-it-yourself projects, enjoying fresh produce that you planted and grew, and going for a simple lung stretching walk all bring a sense of balance and connection with life. I am sure there would be less need for tranquilizers, less abuse of alcohol and less mental health problems if we all enjoyed doing these sorts of basic things. I heard of a Doctor who prescribed gardening for his patients. He claimed feeling the soil in one's fingers, growing things and sensing nature brought inner healing. From my experience I agree!

That reminds me tomorrow I go to the Doctor for a check up... tonight I will sleep contented.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Too busy for people...

Relationships take time.
I am chaplain to the fire brigade. The fire fighters work shift work. They work two day shifts, then two night shifts. They have the rest of their last night shift day off, then three days off, till they start the process again. They complain that it interrupts their family life and normal relationships. I don't think they do too badly, and suspect that they would get frustrated in a five or six day week job. I work Tuesday through to Sunday. I generally have Sunday afternoon "off" though today I conducted a service in a rest home. I am "on call" 24/7.  I have Mondays, mostly as a clear day off. I sometimes get annoyed with every weekend being busy.

  • When I was running a lot of runs, half-marathons, ten k's, triathlons and fun runs were held on Sundays. I was not able to participate.
  • Family celebrations like birthdays, weddings, wedding anniversaries are held on Saturday nights. If we attend I have to be back home so that I can be intelligent in the morning. This often involves leaving festivities early and driving many miles home. The family often continues to meet and gather on the Sunday, but we cannot be there for that.
  • Sport events are held on a Saturday night. I do not get to go or watch them on TV because I am putting finishing touches to service preparation.
  • When the kids were young often they suffered because weekends were busy. I recall my son was in Cricket Trials for the province and I could not go to support him... they were Sunday mornings. Often sporting competitions were held Sundays and I could not help with transport, give support or enjoy their successes.
  • I don't really get two days off in a row. It makes going away difficult, things like decent tramping trips impossible and doing house repairs and renovations or just keeping up with gardens and lawns impossible.
  • Mondays are my normal day off so Monday holidays (like Otago Anniversary day tomorrow) mean nothing to me. ... and I cannot take extra days off because nobody fills in for stuff needing to be done, and chaplaincy does not recognise these.
That is probably enough to paint the picture. Life does not have much time to have a heck of a lot more in it, apart from "work". When I bother to count up my hours per week it is often near to, sometimes over 60 hours. I mention this tonight for two reasons. My son came to town from Christchurch on Thursday and left on Saturday evening. He of course spent time with his fiance, who we would love to spend more time with. Apart from brief encounters I did not really get time to catch up with him, get to know her more and kind of felt cheated because of this. Secondly, we have a couple in the congregation who own an Indian restaurant. They were opening a branch in Invercargill about two and a half hours drive away. They invited us to go to the opening. Because of our friendship with them and because of their link to our congregation we thought it would be worthwhile to go. On Saturday we left town and drove to Invercargill in time to get there by 7 p.m.  We had to leave the festivities by 9:30 p.m. to drive home, finally getting to bed at about 12:40 on Sunday morning, getting up for Sunday duties at around 6:45 a.m. As we talked with people at the opening we learned that many had come down from Dunedin. They were staying in Invercargill over night and making a special weekend of the event, dawdling their way home through the scenic route, booking romantic hotels etc etc. I felt so envious! They all had "normal" jobs! It is often difficult to build friendships because of these conditions.

Sometimes, because of the hours and days of work, I resent this job. Maybe I will make up for it when I retire? Just today I feel a bit flat and cheated.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

A corner cafe..."on my heart"

I was talking to a woman yesterday who was sounding me out, as many Christians do, to try and find out what sort of Christian I am. You could almost hear her brain ticking... "Is he a real Christian? Or is he just an 'establishment-liberal-namby-pamby' Christian?" I told her that in out look I was fairly "liberal" as far as the way I interpreted the Bible. Again she was trying to put me in a box... "But you still believe ... x... y... & z.. don't you?" I hate that. I hate people attempting to put me in a box. They often think because of my biblical perspectives and non-conservative approaches that I am weak in the faith department. I have a metaphorical approach to the Bible, and I have people sometimes joking with me as if I don't really take following Jesus seriously. From their perspective I pick and choose what I believe. (I think the word "believe" is a wrong concept for following Jesus. It distorts the reality, and is a distortion of the Biblical concept.) But I am often looked down upon by more conservative christians. I have been told I have a "social gospel" blah-blah-blah... and even that I'm going to hell. (I have mates in both places - I joke.) 

This Sunday's lectionary readings includes a well known passage from Jeremiah. In it "God" says, "I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people."  I guess many will call me a heretic or consign me to hell. One thing I know is that I experience the sacred in annoyingly powerful ways. Let me tell you one event that happened on Monday - my day off.

My wife and I went into town to a corner cafe for morning tea. We sat having a coffee and scone at a table by a window looking out at the cars and pedestrians passing by. We got to talking about retirement. I am planning on retirement at the end of next year. We talked about the things we might do and that we don't plan on worshipping at my current church. As we talked we watched the people going by. Tourists from the cruise ship in town, looking bored as they take their mandatory walk through the city at the latest port of call. They stand out because they have near new expensive looking "casual-holiday-clothing" with walking shoes and cameras. I watched cars pull up at the lights at the intersection. There were some beaten up cars that probably should not have been on the road. Along side of them some flash looking cars worth more than my house with "suits" driving them, surreptitiously talking on their smart phones. (its illegal in NZ to drive and talk on your phone) Local business people walked by on the way to their cafe of choice for a business meeting. As we watched "Fred" walked by. Fred (not his real name) is a nice young man who comes to our drop-in from time to time. He hears voices. He told me once he had been baptised in a "happy-clappy" church. He said he was told that he would be healed of his voices and be able to give up smoking and just find a nice girl who loves him. He is a nice hearted man. Later when these things didn't happen it was suggested that maybe he was being punished for evil thoughts or actions. He asked me if I thought it was because "he had lustful thoughts and sometimes masturbated". I told him "we'd all be in deep poo if God did that!" Fred is a lovely guy. I played soccer with him and he is a gifted soccer player. As he walked past on Monday he was smoking and his head was rocking backward and forward, he was disheveled and looked every bit a sad mental-health patient. The health system is letting him down. Another of our occasional drop-in guys walked past, hesitated and took a step back. His hand shot out to the outside table just through the window. He fiddled with the cigarette butts in the ashtray... there were a couple of nice looking half smoked ones. Then this young man (30's) spied us and quickly retreated. Another of our "friends" went past. He is a guy who is often in prison because of theft or drugs or both. He walked past with his latest sad looking girlfriend. He had dyed his head to look young. As I sat there looking at the twisted lives of the rich and poor I was nearly in tears. In spite of my "liberal theology" and the fact that I am a heretic destined for hell, I had the real love and passion of God bursting through my veins. I was deeply sad for the parade of distorted lives, values and directions going past the window. My eyes were watering up because these rich and poor children of God were "in hell" in their messed up lives. They were keeping on making bad choices that were destroying relationships, health and wellbeing. I felt deep anger because most churches, even "successful contemporary" ones were "islands of irrelevance in a sea of despair", even contributing to the distortion. - God's anger, God's sadness and frustration, and God's love for his people was bursting inside me. I was so disturbed I said to my wife, "I've got to get out of here!" I may not be orthodox, but God's law is very deeply "written on my heart" and possesses me, capturing me and driving me even as I dream of retirement. As a man of God once said, "Woe is me!" Call me a heretic, but still my faith wells up in damn annoying ways inside! Bugger!
Reflecting on the Rule of Benedict, Joan Chittister writes: "No one really has full control of their own lives. We're all limited by something. The difference is that some people decide what they will allow to control them, and some simply find themselves controlled by the whims and fancies of life. All of us meet and wrestle with authority. The only question is to what authority I have surrendered...?" (Wisdom Distilled from the Daily, Harper Collins, 1991).

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

A life-giving secret to growth.

These fungi push their way through the pine needles on my mountain.

I have been stewing on something the last couple of weeks. I think there is one attitude that really opens up, expands and extends life.

We often think that the tough nut, who knows what he wants, what he believes and is rock solid in that is the one who has it all together. But in my experience I find that this sort of person is often the most fearful person. He/she wants life to run along certain lines and can cope with it only if it does. They push their views, outlooks and beliefs because they are simply fearful of life that is different. They often do not like to grow and change, because that would take them out of their comfort zone.  Such people become the fundamentalists and red necks of their society. They are like the preacher who had written in the margin of his notes, "Argument weak here, shout louder!" No, I think the real people who have it "together" are not the people full of certainties, but those willing to see they have room to grow, change and have uncertainties. They are the people whose life becomes more and more full of new understandings, experiences and insights. They are the people who are useful, fit in with others and who make the best of life. They are the ones who, though they grow older, stay young in their hearts. They are the people whose circle of concern, interest and experience keeps expanding. They are the ones who truly taste and chew on life. Let me illustrate by a negative and then a positive example.
Negative example...
I was recently asked to go to an employees work "appraisal". It was going to be tough on him so the firm wanted to make sure he had support. I sat there with this man, "Fred" while the HR manager and this man's manager sat on the other side of the table and shared their thoughts. They wanted to point out how his work was not coming up to scratch and I believe, genuinely wanted to work with him to help him improve. I felt sorry for his manager who as gently as he could outlined "Fred's" faults. "Fred" however, seemed to almost interrupt and come back defensively. The manager did not want to argue with him, but was forced to be quite blunt in pointing out faults, but "Fred" still did not seem to be taking it on board. I interrupted once and pointed out to Fred that these guys really wanted to work with him and that it was important that he listen to them. At one point I sensed the HR manager change his attitude and begin to wind up the meeting. They were going to have further meetings, but I fear that "Fred" might have lost his job by now. If that was the case, it would not be because his work was not up to scratch. They were prepared to work on that. It would be because of his attitude. They could not work with him, if he kept refusing to accept the guidance and help offered. I could see this man losing his job simply because he lacked the humility to say, "Maybe I need to listen, learn and change?" He could miss out on an opportunity to grow because he lacked this special life-giving attitude - humility, willingness to change and encompass the new. 
I have recently become the chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. We had a meeting last week and were dreaming about our future. Kevin, the immediate past president, shared a warning about the direction we were talking about. Kevin has had years of working on committees for charities, and is even involved at an international level. He is very wise in these matters and can speak with the authority of experience. We listened to Kevin's point of view and took it on board, even if it made us a little frustrated. Then the youngest one amongst us, John, spoke up. He is the youngest, but also has only been on the committee a couple of months. I appreciated the way he raised his objection to Kevin's words of warning. He put it in the form of a question. "But don't you think.... if we... isn't that right?" It was well done. Not rubbishing Kevin or his ideas, but just adding a perspective and a question. I sat there as chairman thinking, "Now I have two opposing views on the table, what happens now?" Kevin quietly asked John a clarifying question.. "What you're saying is....?" Then Kevin said, "No you are right. I hadn't thought of that. You are absolutely correct!" Both John and Kevin exhibited humility, wisdom and maturity. Kevin from his years of experience, could have pounded the table and held true to his ideas. But no, he had the grace to really listen to John's question, add to his own knowledge and perspective and change his mind. John had the wisdom and humility not to come on strong and tell Kevin, "You are wrong!". He just with humility and grace, asked a question, which helped Kevin to see the picture differently. Both, because they were humble in attitude, were useful members of the committee. Both added to the depth, knowledge and dynamic of the whole Trust. I have been on other groups where people with "certainties and holding on to certainties" have NOT listened to others, have shut down discussion and silence opposition. In so doing they have made their group dysfunctional, have discouraged other members and stopped real change and growth.

Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." The Apostle Paul suggests, "Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, ..." and "Honour all people" and ".. do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; never be conceited..." In Ephesians there is a summary statement about various relationships which says, "Submit yourselves to one another ..." That means really "be open to the other person's needs, perspectives and position." It is a stance of humility. The Desiderata has these words...

Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others, even the dull and the ignorant; they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit. If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain or bitter; for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
I believe an attitude of humility enables you to receive more out of life, it makes you able to fit in with others and share your contribution, is an essential ingredient in what we call "wisdom" and it keeps us young in mind and spirit.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Sunday walk

For years now late on a Sunday afternoon I have run with a friend. Our runs have been reduced to walks when both of us have had sore knees. At our last "walk" my friend Jane was on crutches after major knee surgery. Yesterday we walked without crutches slowly around Ross Creek.  Jane, a very clever photographer, had her new iphone and I had my old camera. You can compare the photos. My knee feels better these days but I have not started running again. Jane is determined we will get back to doing a half-marathon again. The jury is out on whether I can do that again? Wait and see.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Serendipity experiences on Friday

Friday Surprises.
Every Friday I have a friend arrive at my office at about 10 a.m. and we have coffee together.  We have spent a lot of time together building Habitat for Humanity houses and this regular meeting started as a Friday check-in of the needs and plans for the building site on the Saturday. It continues as a catch up on each other's lives. This last Friday, at the end of my coffee with a friend, I had an extra encounter which was such a pleasant and enriching experience. I allow an international women's group to use a hall at the Church. They call themselves Women Across Cultures and my wife attends to help look after the children.  There are women from a whole range of ethnicities and cultures there for two hours in the morning. We realised that some of their husbands drove them to the meetings and were at a loose end, so we opened up our Space2B area so the husbands could call in there for coffee if they wanted. Just as my friend went out the door a man arrived having delivered his wife to the group. He was from Iraq, we had met before and I remembered some things from our first conversation. Muthiah, an Indian man who looks after Space2B welcomed him and we sat and talked. He was so interesting. He told us of the history of Iraq, (7000 years!) the impact of world wars, the king, the dictatorship of Saddam Hussein, the "liberation" and what he saw as an "invasion".  He was so interesting and informative. He said that another person from Iraq could have a different perspective, which also could be true. We went on to discuss the differences between different cultures and life's experiences. When we ended our encounter he said, "Today I talked and you listened. Next week you talk and I listen." I had not scheduled this encounter into my day, but I felt privileged to spend time with this wise man from a different culture.

Another pleasant part of my day happened just after lunch. One of the guys who spends time in our Space2B and drop-in centre is John. He is a bit eccentric and often is easily upset. He had however, bought himself a pushbike and seemed a lot healthier riding around town on it. Unfortunately it had been stolen. Last time I spoke to him he was quite distressed about that. On Thursday night at the Night Shelter meeting we got talking about John and I mentioned the loss of his bike. A friend who has just joined the Night Shelter Trust asked if he could call the next day, and on Friday after lunch he dropped by at my office. He arrived and gave me $200 so that I could go and buy John a new bike! I have not managed to do that yet but I was so thrilled to be a part of his generosity.

I worked out that on Friday night I had completed 47 hours of work in four days. I have since completed at least ten further hours for the week. There are tough times in my ministry, things I find hard to cope with, but then there are the special moments like I experienced on Friday.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

My Thursday...

Chaplaincy and church meetings
I arrived at work at 9 a.m. and began to check some things for a Night Shelter meeting and for a lunch time meeting. After I a couple of phone calls I headed to the brewery, wandering around there chatting with guys till not long before midday when I went back to my office for a lunch time meeting with the organist. As he left the elders team of the church entered for a half-hour meeting where we catch up on pastoral concerns. I locked up the office and went around to my Newspaper chaplaincy for my last visit there. It was quite a warm and fuzzy one with warm goodbyes and lots of chats. The guys played with a photo that was in the newspaper of me at the Night Shelter and presented it to me as a memento of my time as their chaplain. I scanned them in....

The original that was in the local community paper.

The "doctored" one.. what I could look like when I get real old! Cheeky young guy!
Night Shelter dreams
I was back at my office by 4:45p.m. to have a cup of tea and prepare for leading a Night Shelter Trust meeting at 5:30. I did not leave the Night Shelter until after 8 p.m. going to my office to pack up and check emails. We are dreaming big at the Night Shelter Trust. The building we rent is on the market so we are planning on buying our own. We essentially just cater for men, but we want to expand our operation to take into account the needs of women. This of course means we have to raise a big sum of money. So we are dreaming, and planning and working toward this goal. This involves lots of discussion, so our meetings have been extra long lately. This does not make me look good as a chairman. With the previous chairman we were out of the meeting generally well before 7 p.m. In the meetings I have run since taking over we have gone at least till 7:30. We are praying that there will be kind generous people around who will support us.

After 8 p.m. I went back to the office briefly before heading home, buying fish and chips on the way. I ate these, fed the dog, and then made a final selection of hymns and order of service, emailing these to the appropriate people. That email went at nearly 10 p.m.

Now I have a glass of sherry and am winding down. Quite a big day, lots of challenges, but I am relieved to have released myself of one responsibility. I will have four hours of flexible time a week to fill up with Church work in the weeks ahead. It will make things easier for me I hope.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Good News about an earlier post.

Ian's 1912 Triumph. Re-restored and back among his family.
In October 2009 I blogged about my Aussie friend Ian's vintage motor bike which was stolen. This was after his death. This loss on top of the loss of a much loved husband and dad was a source of much sadness and heartache for his widow and the family.  Due to Curly's (his widow) persistence and perseverance it was eventually found in a drain and has had to be re-restored. Another Aussie mate sent me an email today with a photo of the bike now... He writes the following...

Curly refused the $20.000 insurance payout continually saying she wanted the bike back, the money was meaningless.
She advertised for months offering a reward and proved there is no honour among thieves. The bike had been dumped in a drain for 6 months.
Here it is restored. Ian’s son David will ride it over Easter at Mac Park in Mount Gambier and then I think it will go on loan to the National Motor museum.
It’s a hundred years old this year.

I think it is great that it has been restored. Ian put an incredible amount of work into the bike and in some ways its ongoing life is a memorial to him. I would love to see it again. Maybe I could sneak over at Easter? (Nah... I have a bathroom to build.) It was just before Easter that Ian died. 
Away back in the 1970's I did my theological training in Australia for four years in Melbourne. I am a staunch Kiwi. I love New Zealand with a passion. But I have to admit that a part of my heart will always be in Australia, especially with the deep friendships I made while there. I often wish I had the funds to drop over for a quick visit.

A new week starts.

Last week...

Two meetings...
Last week I had two evening meetings on consecutive nights. I could not help but compare the feeling of the two.
  • One I felt cautious and guarded, the other I felt relaxed and willing to share.
  • One I left frustrated and disillusioned, the other I left energised... though the task we decided upon is immense.
  • One I enjoyed, as if I was with friends on a journey, the other I felt out of step.
  • Both were intense, but one I felt listened to, the other I felt unheard.
I could go on but that is enough. I have at various times studied "group dynamics" and the impact each individual has on a group. It amazes me how groups are so different and it does not take much to make the same group different. I belong to one group - neither of the groups I met with last week - and when one individual is not at the group, it is a joy to meet. When he turns up the whole dynamic changes. It has the same skilled leadership and virtually same agenda, but so different. In the week ahead I'll attend another couple of meetings.... one of them I will run. I like watching people. Sometimes it thrills me as I am impressed by people's skill, intelligence and ability to relate. Sometimes I shake my head in despair.
Introducing a replacement...
In my newspaper chaplaincy I took around my replacement on Wednesday last week. I am confident that she will do better than I have done in that particular chaplaincy. I was however, touched by the number of people who seemed genuinely sad that I was leaving. I never really expected to see that. I had to laugh. I introduced my replacement to one guy there who has always been friendly. With a big smile on his face he said, "Are you going? Oh great, the good Lord does answer prayer after all!"  Then he began to question me. "Where are you going? Are you finishing with chaplaincy?" When I said, "No, it was just this chaplaincy... because I had too much on my plate." He came back, "Why us? Why didn't you dump one of the others? What's wrong with us?" Anyway this week I pay my final visit. There will be relief but also sadness. I have enjoyed learning about newspapers and media.
Industrial relations at the fire stations...
The firefighters have been on strike. Their contract is a way overdue and the union and the NZ Fire Service have been "negotiating" for months - over a year. The fire fighters are still going to fires, but that's about all.  It has not been good for morale, especially among the younger keen fire fighters. The older ones have been through such industrial action before, and that was not pretty. In that time people made silly decisions, marriages broke up, distrust flourished, morale hit rock bottom and people were hurt.  A week or so ago the Fire Service upped the ante by saying "All offers are off the table." or something like that. Then the union responded, "OK we will not now be doing such and such..."  Then the Fire Service responded by saying, "If you do that then leave will be cancelled and... and..." This is called "negotiation". ... excuse me... Bullshit! It is like how my preschool kids used to argue! I want to scream at them to "grow up". This is a massive government funded organisation and both sides are carrying on like children in a playground! Next they will be saying, "He started it!" ... "No you started it!"  I heard one of the managers say, "We only have a certain amount of money to go around and we need to work out how to spend it." Surely there is a less adversarial, more adult way for adults to sit down and look at the money available, the job needing done and come to some sort of agreement. I just hate seeing workplaces becoming so dysfunctional and not good places even to visit.
A "thank you" card...
I received a "thank you card" from a couple whose wedding I conducted. It reads, "Everyone said it was a beautiful ceremony - thank you Dave. It just seemed to sum us up wonderfully." Now I guess I am boasting, but I am good at that. I love taking a funeral or a wedding and making it "fit" the people involved, giving expression to what they want to say and enabling them to celebrate in terms meaningful to them. I liked the card and photo which went with it.
Is it old age coming on....
Three things happened last week which made me feel stupid...
  • I backed out of a fire station on Friday, in a hurry to move on. My right hand mudguard connected with a building and was dented. Stupid! Stupid! Stupid! Too much on my mind... not concentrating. Is it old age?
  • I was putting the finishing touches to some brilliant power point slides twenty five minutes before the beginning of our Church service on Sunday. Just adding one more slide... and the computer screen went funny, told me that power point had to shut down. No worries, the file was recovered, minus a slide or two and I started again... somehow I clicked the wrong thing and lost the lot! I never knew I could do Power Point slides so quickly! (though they were not as nice as the originals) Is it old age?
  • Last night with my "mac book pro" connected to the TV we watched some "TV on demand." Doc. Martin, one of the few shows I enjoy is screened on Friday night during drop-in centre so we watch it via the computer on Sunday nights. Again I have done "something" and the "Display" on my Macbook is all big and acting strangely. I cant get it going right... is it old age?
New Bathroom coming up...
The local hardware store was holding a sale on bathroom stuff. We had been planning to do up the bathroom, so on Saturday we bought nearly $2000 worth of stuff. All transported and stored at home now waiting for me to take some time off to install it. Eeeek!
Magic! Looking down on the clouds from the top of Mount Cargill on Saturday

The photo the thankful couple gave me... me in full flight doing my thing.
My week starts again tomorrow, Tuesday... here I come ready or not. 

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Impacts of being shy.

Why I like being alone.
Wikipedia defines "shyness" as - In humansshyness (also called diffidence) is a social psychology term used to describe the feeling of apprehensionlack of comfort, or awkwardness experienced when a person is in proximity to, approaching, or being approached by other people, especially in new situations or with unfamiliar people. 
By this definition I am shy. I was showing my replacement around the Newspaper chaplaincy the other day and introduced her to the manager we report to. He was talking about chaplains and chaplaincy and said how we were all different. He said something like, "Some people can bowl up to anybody and start a friendly conversation with no trouble at all." - and he pointed at me? He's a nice guy but he is wrong! He does not see the inside stress I have in "bowling up to anybody"!  The woman replacing me will go well. She is confident yet sensitive enough to do a good job, and I think she will be good for the women in the workplace. I have trouble with women! Especially with younger women.
What do you say after "Hello"? How do you not come across as a DOM?
Workplace support chaplains are to call past people's work station and make themselves available for conversation. We are to build relationship with people so that they feel comfortable coming to us if they need to. I "bowl up" to a young woman in a workplace and introduce myself and say "Hi" or "Hello" and maybe ask about their work. They respond with a one word answer. Now often with men you can just hang around and watch what they are doing and conversation will start up again. Older women often reply with more content. But I feel like a jerk "loitering with intent" around young women! I feel awkward, thinking that they will feel like I am a D.O.M. (Dirty Old Man) I somehow feel like if I push the conversation they will feel "icky", like I am forcing myself on them. So I am "diffident" "shy" "apprehensive" etc. I tend to move on and not talk.
But not just women....
I find myself getting apprehensive with almost every new meeting I have. Stupid but real. This is particularly true if I suspect that the person does not want to make contact with a minister, chaplain or me. I always tend to expect rejection when meeting people. Even when I am received warmly I think, "They would not like me if they really knew me."  It is a strange way to be in my job. It impacts on everything I do. I do not delegate when I should. I would rather do it myself than face possible rejection asking somebody else. I do, however, steel myself and go ahead and meet people, and generally am accepted. It will be interesting when I retire, I may happily become a hermit.
Public speaking is an effort...
I think I do a good job as a preacher, but my inner shyness makes Sunday mornings a big deal. Again people would look at me and think I am confident and that it is easy for me. But I have sleepless Saturday nights and often have to steel myself to do it. I find myself questioning my current environment and just last Sunday during the whole first hymn I hardly sang, because I really did not want to be there. Roll on retirement!
I also tend to avoid conflict...
On Friday nights at our drop-in we have a man who is immature in the way he plays pool. He gets mad when somebody consistently beats him and is often ill tempered. I have intervened several times over the years. He has at times threatened me with a pool cue but I always manage to cool things down or direct him out the door. Sometimes when I know the person he is mad at is strong as a person, I will let things go awhile and they often sort it out or come to a compromise. But it is annoying. Last Friday he got stroppy with a guy, usually its the same guy who can beat him consistently. My wife was nearby and stepped in and told him to cool down. He blithered on at her. I was looking from a distance ready to step in, but I thought as I watched, "You have taken on the wrong person tonight!"  She has raised five children and intervened in lots of disagreements and she will not back down. She eye balled him up close and said quietly but firmly,"We are getting sick of the childish way you play pool. You make it unhappy for a lot of people. If you cannot play in an adult way then you better leave." She made a deal with him to play one more game then he had to allow the other guy to play. He played his game and left. My wife does not look for conflict, but she is willing to confront if she has to. While I sometimes do it, I often avoid that "constructive" confronting. I can't be bothered with the agro. I was at a meeting the other night and during the night a guy made a couple of statements I disagreed with. It was on the tip of my tongue to express a contrary view, but I stopped. I thought about it and knew he would not take disagreement well, so I backed off. Was I wise? Was I lazy as a leader? I suspect his reactions to disagreement is almost a bullying tactic... It is how he has got his own way where ever he is. Maybe I should have confronted it? Was it my shyness preventing me from taking a true leadership role? I tend to say, "I'll just do my thing and ignore them."

Relationships are funny things. I guess my shyness leads me to enjoy times of being alone.

Monday, March 5, 2012

My day "off".... lovely physical work.

Fixing things
Today I got a lot of straight forward physical work done. I had a big bin of burnable rubbish which I slowly worked through burning. We have set a possum trap to stop them eating our apples. It was not working properly so I fixed that. I have broad beans growing, nearly ready to pick, but needing supported and tied. I did this, feasting on the sugar snap peas growing nearby. We had a really nice lunch with salad vegetables from the garden and an egg each from our hens. After lunch we went down to trim the goats' feet. We have two goats, and with cunning, goat nuts and gentle talk we caught them and I went about the business of trimming their hooves. The only hiccup was that at the end of each treatment we would hold the whole foot in a bucket of copper sulphate solution. I was lying on the ground holding the goats leg when suddenly the goat kicked out, I ended up getting a mouthful of this horrible tasting liquid. But I enjoyed the farm work. I was then asked to look at the electric lawn mower. The switch mechanism was not working, so I went about pulling it to pieces. I could not repair it, no matter how hard I tried. Like so many things these days it was a throw away item which was not made to be fixed. I looked through my hoarded electrical stuff and found a switch. I adapted it, fitted it to the mower and was so rapt when it worked with the blade going in the right direction. (I think if I had the wires around the wrong way it could have gone backwards) I moved from that to fixing a speaker on a stereo we used at the drop-in centre, but to fix that I first had to repair a plug on my soldering iron. All this long winded story to say I really enjoy doing plain old fixing things. My mind is concentrated on the thing at hand, and work is forgotten. I see results straight away for my efforts. It is simply a good way to spend a day off. .... but....
Incoming stress... "I know its your day off but....."
During the day I received four work related phone calls.  One was a chaplain catching up on stuff I did for him last week when he was on holiday. Two were somebody from one of my chaplaincies wanting to make an appointment for tomorrow. The fourth was the chaplaincy office wanting me to do some work in a different workplace tomorrow. Each one brought a certain level of stress.  I had the details of my work last week at my church office in town, my memory could not remember names. Full of self doubt, I ask myself, "Will I be up to helping the person who wants to see me tomorrow?" I will have to move my normal Tuesday timetable around to fit them in. Now I have to fit it all around this new piece of work. But at that job I have to meet new people, do some new things, and walk into a strange, potentially strained situation? I get so stressed about that sort of thing. My essential shyness sneaks in and raises my stress levels. I'll do it and cope, but it feels like every week has extra stuff in it when I am trying to cut back on stress levels.  These calls did mar an otherwise good day off!  One day I will deal to my shyness and self-doubt.  When I grow up maybe?  ;-)
Email conversation... Early in the day I responded to an email a guy on the Night Shelter Trust sent me. He replied and I replied back to him. He responded with this simple but straight forward email...


Why are you doing emails today – this is your day off – go for a run!!!!

That gave me a giggle.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Oh how we like shiny stuff

I was back being a plumber this morning. It is Saturday and I went in relatively early to do some plumbing repairs at the Church. I thought I would save the church the high cost a plumber would charge his time out at so I left my "minister" hat at home, gathered my tools and went in to the Church back doing my old trade. Of course as I was working away I was stewing on my sermon for tomorrow. The passage is "deny yourself", "take up your cross", and "lose your life to find it." They all point to profound paradox, which, if you take them seriously you discover to be true. If you don't, or shy away from the concepts, my sermon no matter how eloquent will mean nothing to you. I asked myself in frustration,"What is the point of my trying to communicate what people will not likely heed anyway?" Many Christians refuse to take seriously such teaching of Jesus and we continue to live by the secular values of the world about us, and dabble in a little bit of religion on the side. We miss out by doing this.

I was thinking deeply about how to communicate this radical yet profound truth. I grabbed a spanner to undo a pipe joint. It was a black steel crescent which I as a first year plumbing apprentice purchased in 1966. I recalled the events. When we started as apprentices we were given a list of tools we should purchase and the firm's shop allowed us to pay these off with payments coming out of our pay packets. I bought a range of three shiny chrome crescents. Within a few weeks all of these crescents were stolen out of my tool box. They were very expensive. An old plumber wheezed his sympathies and said, "Buy normal old black steel ones, nobody pinches those!" This black steel 12 inch crescent is one I then purchased and it has never been stolen, even on Habitat for Humanity jobs. (where I have lost a number of tools)  Forty six years later it is still as good as new. Those who steal go for the flash looking tools. We humans like things that sparkle. We get sucked in by advertisers who present the flashy sparkly things of life, because we are told they provide happiness. A fancy car, flashy house, expensive gadgets and clothing. We fail to see that happiness is not in the house we live in or the car we drive or the clothing we wear, but what's in our inner spirits as we live or drive.  Happiness or real "life" is found in the tough challenging day to day less flashy looking, life of living a giving lifestyle. In this day by day giving, losing ourselves, true depth of life, character and real identity is found.  ... We hear Jesus' teaching and sing songs about it, but still the shiny things of life and the values of the world about us distract and draw us away from really living.  A bit sad really. We end up with insipid imitation christianity, dysfunctional churches and a grossly distorted religion.