Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Frosty Sunday afternoon

Our foster daughter who has severe handicaps. She has taught me more about "just being with somebody" than anyone else.
Guilty feeling..
After Church my wife and I grabbed a couple burgers and sat at a park eating lunch in the feeble mid-winter sun. My wife is still involved as a director on the local Habitat for Humanity board and they had an opening for a house they had renovated this afternoon. Partly because I felt out of step with the NZ Habitat for Humanity directions I resigned a few years ago. It is funny, my wife refrains from telling me what is going on because she knows I will get stewed up. I am happy to help with work, but they tend to get trainee groups doing stuff now and not volunteers. (Which I think cuts at the heart of the impact and essence of Habitat for Humanity - but we won't go there.) Anyway Jean had to go to the opening and assist so she had her car and I came home in mine. I felt partly guilty because I should perhaps be there to support her like she often is with me. But I would find it hard. I came home and because of my guilt have been doing stuff around here. I'm now sitting in front of the fire with a cup of tea and my computer. 
Generous lifestyle
In this morning's service I spoke about a generous lifestyle. The passage came from II Corinthians 8 where Paul is trying to get the Corinthians to cough up some money for the Jerusalem Christians. I came up with four reasons for living generously that were a part of this passage. 
  • Faith without action was no good. Our faith should lead to putting love into action.
  • Generosity is God's way and if we are generous we put ourselves into the current of God. We dance to the same music God dances to.
  • Paul sees generosity enabling a fair balance. The Corinthians' abundance can help the Jerusalem need. Theres an important principle for life. There will always be people in need through no fault of their own. Sometimes we may be those people. It is up to the strong to help the weak, the able to assist those less able, the rich to help the poor.
  • Paul saw this collection as a means of breaking down barriers that existed between the Jerusalem Christians and the gentile Christians. Generosity breaks down barriers.
Yesterday I ran (jogged)
My knee has not been painful for some time so yesterday I thought I might test it and go for an extended run. (I have run a few times just for 5 minutes.) Yesterday I jogged 6k to see if it impacted my knee. It was nice to be running again. There is something about a run that beats all other exercise. So far my knee feels good.   

Being with people 
I have had reason to think about listening skills lately, or more correctly what makes you good at working with people. I have a Social Work Student on placement with us and that exercise makes you think about such things.
At my last supervision session my supervisor told me, “You have a special way of being with people that other people would love to be able to do. Other people try to be like you but with you it is natural, it comes from your heart. You can be with people and there is nothing judgemental about you.” Now I am not sure that she is correct about me having a “special way” but I do like the phrase she used, “being with people.” 
You can learn creative listening techniques - People will study facilitation skills, group work and social work models - You can say all the right PC things, watch your professional skills and processes etc. etc.... But so often working with people is really simply “being with people”.  You can do all the right techniques but still fail to be with people. You can be physically with people, but full of yourself and concerned about your competency to play the role, so not really with people. Often instead of listening attentively, we can be thinking of the next thing we want to say.  There's a worship chorus that has the line, "So forget about yourself and concentrate on God and worship him." In a real sense to be with somebody is to "forget about yourself and concentrate on them." Sometimes the most help you can give is to just be in silence and still be with that person in a valuable way.  Often we feel compelled to fill the silences. Have you ever looked back on a long association with people a realised you have traveled with them. You may not have been called on to do much for them, but your presence alongside them in  life has been important. To be with somebody is to not let yourself get in the way, and to allow the other to be. At college and since I have enjoyed reading McQuarries' existential theology. In his Introduction to Theology he names God the Father as "Being".  He names God the Son as the "Letting Be" of God. I love that term. It hit me when I first read about it that my task is to live in this world and enable others (people, creation etc) to be! To so live that I "let them be", not in the sense of leaving them alone, but living in such a way that I support them and help enable them to be all that they are. So when I am with people as friend, minister, chaplain or social worker, I am to be with them in such a way that their being is able to find expression and move toward its fuller expression.
Sometimes we impose our being in the relationship. Sometimes we fail to respect or recognise who the person really is, because we want to channel them on different paths. When you think about it, it is pretty hurtful to be in relationship with some body who does not accept you for who you are. Their attitude and demenour really says, "You are a nobody" even though they may think they are there to help you. On the other hand, if that somebody is just themselves with you and accepts you as just yourself, it is an affirming, life enhancing, and even a life changing experience. 
One of the difficulties is a lack of personal confidence. We feel we have nothing to offer unless we say "the right thing" or use "the right technique". In reality people need not so much our exterior skill, but more just to be met by another caring human being. We need to trust that who we are is OK and that somehow when we relax and be ourselves in an open way truly with another, we are offering something very special. 
Enough burble... I did not mean to rant on about that... one thought led to another... but I'll stop there.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Chatting - Of more value than money.

I was in a conversation at a fire station today when the average wage was talked about. If what they say is true I am paid well under the average wage and much less than the guys I was talking with. But I still drove away from that conversation and back to my office feeling like a lucky man. I had visited the Ambulance headquarters at lunch time and had been around three fire stations since afternoon tea time. I felt extremely privileged to be doing my job.

I had "good" warm significant conversations at each place. People talked about their jobs, their future, their health, their family's health, community issues and generally I felt that I was accepted. I felt a deep sense of privilege that these people let me into their lives.

Don't get me wrong, it is quite tiring hard work. At both St John Ambulance and fire stations they are going through change and restructuring. I feel for the people involved. I came away from the Ambulance feeling sad for people there because I listened to disappointed and angry people. People told me about or asked me about difficult situations they were facing in life. It is tiring and emotionally draining work listening. But it also gives me a this deep sense of privilege, worth and "belonging" that is a reward in itself that money cannot buy. This afternoon I enjoyed good conversation.

"All you do is wander around talking!" sometimes people say in a derogatory way of my chaplaincy work. Yep, that is all I do, but in doing that I am doing something immensely valuable and participating in one of the most precious experiences of life.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Sunday night... "If I were a carpenter.."

Three of the seven shelf units we made.
One unit in a wardrobe.
If I were a carpenter...
On Saturday for most of the day my wife and I did carpentry, or to be more specific, joinery.  On the Night Shelter Trust we are planning to open up a building for medium term accommodation. We are in the process of furnishing the rooms. Each room has a big wardrobe so we decided to make a set of shelves for each room. I had made storage shelves for the night shelter some years ago which are no longer needed. On Saturday I used the timber in these to make seven sets of shelves. I enjoy the planning, the plain old physical work and the completion of such a project.  I am not really good at doing a nice finishing job, too impatient, but I do enjoy the ability to plan such a project and use tools successfully. I enjoyed plumbing as a trade, loving beating, bending and shaping copper pipe and working with metal. After 13 years of working on Habitat for Humanity sites, I am sure I would have loved being a carpenter. Constructing things is great for the inner person. To steal the words of a song from the "Fiddler on a roof" I ask God, "Would it have spoiled some vast eternal plan, if I had been a carpenter?"
Oh... now onto a sermon..?
We arrived home from our carpentry not long before 6 p.m. I had to settle down to work on the Church newsletter and then work on what remained of my sermon. .. I had done a heap of reading and stewing during the week, but had not settled on a clear theme. As I sat down to work I had "writer's block."  I was simply too physically tired to shape anything.  Nothing really gelled. By the end of the night, I had "mechanically" worked out a sermon, but was not happy with it. I could present it, it was acceptable, but I had no real "fire in the belly" about it.  I went to bed and slept quite soundly for a Saturday night. When I rose and indeed while I showered, as packed up and drove into the Church and even while doing the power points the sermon gelled to one I wanted to share.  I hate leaving it so late. I have known ministers who get up on Sunday morning and prepare their sermons. I cannot do that. Often on a Sunday night I begin the process of background reading for the next Sunday's sermon. There are several stages one has to go through to do a really good job and properly fit the sermon/service to the people you are speaking with. I was relieved when I had some good feedback after today's effort. I really find that the upfront stuff in ministry is quite stressful for me these days for a number of reasons. One reason is that I am always having to watch what I say in case I offend. I guess I am yearning for freedom from "being nice and pastoral" constraints. In an unhealthy way, I am looking forward to retirement and unlike a lot of ministers I have known,  plan on really retiring from all upfront activity. I will have done my dash.  These days I wish I were a carpenter!

The three prints all framed - an appreciated gift.
Our gift...
In my last post I mentioned that we received a gift of appreciation. It was from our daughter and son-in-law in appreciation of the work we are doing on their house.  When we were on our big overseas trip a couple of years ago we bought a print in many of the cities we visited. We brought these home and were planning to glue them to some black card and hang them somewhere around our old house. My daughter and son-in-law had come and stolen three of these. They got them framed and left these on our kitchen table for us to discover when we got home on Friday night. We have been sitting here tonight thinking about where we will hang each one.
Disturbing marriage annulment...
On the front page of the Otago Daily Times on Saturday there was the story of a woman being contacted by the Catholic Church because her ex-husband was wanting to marry a Catholic woman and had applied to the Church for an annulment of their marriage. I have encountered this process before in chaplaincy conversations. I think it is hurtful, encourages lies and is a waste of time and money. I have some great Catholic friends who I love and respect, but this sort of religious hogwash is, to me, not in line with the way of Jesus. It is old hat! The front page article about it would damage the image of Christianity in our community. It made the church look ridiculous and centuries out of date.
Tomorrow I have a day off... and give blood.
Unfortunately I cannot sleep in tomorrow. I promised to give blood earlyish in the morning. Because of my medications and blood pressure it is much more of a hassle giving blood than it used to be.  I understand that they need all that they can get, so I'll get up early and do my duty. You used to get a little sticker saying; "Be nice to me, I gave blood today." I could do with one of those.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Love actually...

My beautiful fast growing grand daughter. 
I often rant about the evils in the world but I have to tell you about the love I encountered today.

  • I went into the office at around 9 a.m. and essentially spent the morning at the church. I had intended to go out but things prevented me. I had a visit from a Night Shelter friend and enjoyed talking night shelter business for a while. I enjoy his company whenever we get together. My wife came in and declared she was taking me to lunch. I bumped into St John people in the street and was warmly received and chatted freely. A representative from the Women Across Cultures Group who I let use our hall came with a donation from the women for the Church, and real words of appreciation. 
  • I opened up my emails at one stage today and received a warm email of appreciation for my recent series of "If the Church were Christian..." sermons. The email expressed what they meant to this lady.
  • I had a phone call from the Night Shelter friend again and he said I just had to meet somebody, it would be worth my while. I went and met this man who owned a farm a long way from Dunedin and he wanted to gift a regular supply of food for poor in Dunedin. We talked and prayed together.
  • We had received furniture at the night shelter from a store but in moving one desk we had broken it. We went back to the store and he replaced the part for nothing, because it was the Night Shelter. Again we chatted warmly.
  • I was warmly received at the fire station when I got there.
  • We had a really warm and loving feel at the Drop-in centre tonight. We would have had fifty through but there just seemed to be a warmth and friendship that drew people together as a group. I looked at it and saw it was good. There were lots of life enhancing expressions of friendship being expressed.
  • We came home from Drop-in and there were beautiful gifts of appreciation for help given left on our kitchen table.
It has been a day of warm fuzzy's, which is good for the soul.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

I came home early

Don't tell my bosses but I came home early, and I am feeling a bit down. The thing that convinced me to come home was that the Korean congregation was going strong up in the Church above my almost underground office. They tend to yell at God. I get a bit worried not knowing the language. (They talk in tongues anyway) There is a part of their worship which sounds very like Hitler yelling at crowds and the crowd responding with "Sieg Heil!" It has the same sort of intonation.  I'd love to know the words. At least their worship is alive! But there are a number of reasons I feel down.

  • A letter from my Doctor has the phrase in it, "in view of your high cardiovascular risk". It makes me feel fragile indeed. I perhaps should not get stressed? I should eat differently? I should exercise? But as I look at my life I find it hard to get off the merry go round of eating while working, exercise getting squeezed out, (my knee won't let me do the stuff I love anyway) many sleepless nights and feeling that I am stuck in this stressful job for another 18 months at least. My dad died of heart problems at a young age (49) so this Doctor's letter makes me feel fragile. 
  • I have heard recently about changes in Habitat for Humanity. My wife who is a director locally does not talk to me about it because she knows I get upset. When I was part of starting Habitat locally it seemed such a simple formula. I think it worked but I have seen bureaucracy changing it and complicating it. I feel sad because I think they have drifted from the "economics of Jesus" to listening to worldly bean counters. I feel deeply disappointed, and in some ways sad that I was once so involved.
  • I am trying to word a report about the Church's work for 2011. There are lots of things we have done. There is a tremendous amount of community contact and life enhancing influence. The report will be read by Church people who like such reports and they will not identify with a lot of what has gone on. It is not traditional "Church work". I feel sad that they have missed out and feel sad that I have not really brought them with me. I have a friend who analyses organisations. He says that if you take the leaders out and the organisation stops doing what it has been doing, it is dysfunctional as an organisation. I suspect that if you take my wife and I, my daughter and son-in-law out of this Church much of its community ministry would stop. It really is dysfunctional and I have failed as a leader.
  • I am not keeping up with stuff. I feel like a boulder hurtling out of control down a hillside. I am coping but only just going from task to task, without feeling on top of things or in control. I am not sure why, maybe it is just a part of growing older? But people keep throwing extra stuff at me, little stuff, but it feels big at the moment.
Anyway I came home and am working in front of the fire, trying to get a bit more on top of things. Wish me luck.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Where did the time go?

At a Church christmas party, probably 1965 four of us from the youth group mimed the Beatles and joked about them. I'm Ringo Star. (on the drums)
On the drive home tonight I turned on the car radio, which I seldom do. The Beatle's song, "When I'm 64" was played. It came out in 1967 when I was about 18. I had begun dating my wife by then.  I remember enjoying the song and wondering if I would be with this girl when I'm 64? I remember walking home from a date one night feeling conflicted.  "This relationship is getting pretty serious, do I want it to be that serious?"  I remember too, that age 64 seemed a long way off... that is ancient when you are 17 going on 18!

The radio announcer tonight said that today was Sir Paul McCartney's 70th Birthday! This year too, I turn the age of 64! My question is, where did the time go? It feels like it was only yesterday that I was a teenager enjoying Beatles music? How come I am coming up to 64? How come my second favourite Beatle is 70? I don't feel that old? I feel like I am still exploring and learning? I still feel a certain amount of adolescent insecurity? Where did all those years go?

Anyway she's still with me and I'm nearly 64.

Monday, June 18, 2012

Mountain reflections...

I love "my" mountain and will become one with it one day.

Hard slippery snow-ice or running water?

Becoming one with the mountain.
Yesterday's church service I focused on "If the Church were Christian this life would be more important than the afterlife." In that sermon I stated that in spite of "Christian tradition" Jesus' focus was not the afterlife or life after death. It is true for me that if somebody could prove beyond doubt that there was no life after death, I would still follow Jesus. I follow him because of his inner-authenticity, he just makes sense with his teachings and approach to life. I walked up "my" Mount Cargill today. It has been some weeks since I have done that. As I stood on the top I got to thinking on my sermon, as you do on the day after such a traumatic experience. I have said to my wife that when I die I want to be cremated and, if I am still living in Dunedin, my ashes scattered on Mount Cargill. In a few years then when I pass on from this human existence, my remains will be scattered on this mountain I love. (I hope they judge the wind direction properly!) My physical remains will become one with this beloved mountain. I will become part of the soil and maybe bush. As I stood there eating my apple this afternoon I thought that I suspect a similar thing happens to my "spiritual self" whatever that is. It will become one with the love that sustains the universe. That is my concept of life after death. My loving deeds, at least will become part of the ongoing ripple of love. I think "I" lose myself in the love of God, that flow of love which is a part of this existence.
Hard snow/ice or running water from melted snow?
It snowed in around Dunedin hills last week, and in spite of some sunny weather and some rain, the snow is still lying in parts of the hills. As I neared the top of the mountain it became quite risky. Where people on the weekend had walked on the snow it had become hard ice, and with that extremely slippery.  It was difficult going up the track, steps and boardwalks, but extra dangerous coming down. Sometimes I had to just inch along carefully. Beside the track there was often a flow of water, melted snow draining off the hill. I found it easier to walk in this stream than risk the compounded ice. I got to thinking that we are a bit like that. Some of us when the sufferings, disappointments and hurts of life strike us become hard hearted. We are reluctant to trust ourselves with others, we don't let people "in" and we look after ourselves. Life is a battle ground for us and we have our armour on. We are like this snow squeezed into becoming hard, slippery ice. There are others who when life's difficulties hit become all to aware of the hurts, disappointments and heartaches  of life, but they melt and somehow use their adversity to help others stay upright in life. They are like the running water, clearing a path for secure footholds. I met such people last week. I met with three people who work with prisoners being released from prison. I think each had stories of difficulty. They had to some extent become aware. They were no longer naive. They had been lied to, disappointed, frustrated, had needed to change their view of "success". They were "hardened" to some extent, by the very nature of the work they were doing and the people they were dealing with. But they had also allowed themselves to be melted. They cared for these ex-prisoners as if they were their own sons and daughters. One of them was a tough woman, been there and seen that, but still a loving mother/grandmother type person. She lovingly called her clients, "My babies" and you just knew she was doing all she could to help them.
I have known lots of people who having been through hard times themselves became like refreshing water, reaching out to others in love. Others I know after hard times became like hardened snow/ice. I tend to do that sometimes.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Reflecting on a week of people...

This weekend at my daughter's house we installed a new ceiling. Yet to be stopped and painted.
Those that don't - criticise.
Last Sunday and today my running friend and I went for a walk. Each time we actually ran some distance because we have started our return to running. She has had a knee operation and I have had a sore knee so we have not been running for sometime! Where we walk/run lots of people go running, looking very fit, gliding up and down the hill easily. (Today we power-walked up the hill arriving at the top totally breathless) We are a strange pair.  She is twenty years younger than I so we look like father and daughter.  But these last two Sundays we have looked with envy at the lithe runners about us and indulged in criticism!  "Look at the funny way he's running!" "What a strange get up she's wearing!" "Bet he hasn't been running long!" "He's such a show off!" etc. etc. We are simply jealous because we used to be able to run freely and now we don't. As I reflected on this tendency and conversations I frequently have with people, it is often true that those that don't get off their butt and help the world along criticise those who do. It is easy to do nothing, make no mistakes, have no challenges and criticise those who are doing things.

Night Shelter decisions
Lots of my emotional energy this past week has been given to the Night Shelter cause. I have had meetings, conversations and heaps of times stewing. We had a nearly three hour meeting on Thursday evening that I facilitated to make important decisions about an ongoing accommodation project. At times the meeting was tense and intense, but I managed to keep a sense of fun and humour within the group. Since then I have been discussing, thinking and planning for the way ahead. It is funny. I am scared stiff about the project, wondering if we can do it, but strangely intensely "alive" by the opportunity to facilitate this group of people on this adventure.

My mate Jeff...
I have a friend who used to come to our drop-in centre who is an interesting character. He has been banned from drop-in centres and other places around town because he tends to be rough and uncouth in the way he relates. But I can't help liking him. He has physical and mental health issues so is unemployed, but reads on the internet voraciously. He will come out with facts and figures that will astound you. I was in Space2B (lunch time coffee area at our Church) when in he came with a little Jack Russell dog's lead tied to his waist. "Daaave Brown!" he yelled in a big gruff loud voice. He came in, sat down and chatted a while.  I had not seen him for some time. "Gotta go get a magazine!" he said abruptly and picking up his dog deposited him on my lap to look after, while he went off to the shop. He bought a magazine and threw it on the table. He later said, "Thats for you! Thought you might like some intelligent reading." He asked if I could give him a lift, it was cold and raining heavily outside. I did so, and as we drove toward his place he dropped $5 on my knee. When I protested he said,"Don't expect you to give me a lift for nothin'!" He really is a nice guy, but hides it well under this rough gruff exterior. I need to spend more time with him. I think he has softened over the years, but don't tell him I said that.
As I drove toward Jeff's house the rain stopped. When we were approaching an intersection he blurted out, "Turn left, turn left!" "Why?" I asked. "I want to walk the mutt through the park (Chingford Park) he loves it!" So I turned, went down to the back entrance of the park and dropped him off. I was actually overcome with nostalgia. As adolescents and teenagers we lived on the corner he demanded that I turn left on. The house is still there, actually for sale. I could remember the people who use to live  in the houses as I drove to the back entrance. The last house right by the park was the house of a girl I used to go to art classes with, "Moira".  Her dad used to drive us there every Saturday morning and she and I would meander back through town after class, sometimes buying chips along the way. (You could buy threepence worth of chips in those days) Where he started walking we used to play neighbourhood cricket. The Brown boys gathered with mates and anybody else who wanted to play, and often we would play till dark. I used to spend lazy hours riding my bike around the field on my own, doing all sorts of tricks. I could stand on the seat. I could bend down at speed and pick a ball up off the ground. I tried leaping off my bike to grasp an overhanging branch and climb into a tree. Here we wandered, played and later walked as a gang of friends on Sunday afternoons, flirting shyly and working out what it meant to be girls and boys together. It all came flooding back to me and I thought how nice it would be to wind back the clock. I was tempted to hop out of the car and wander the park once more, this time  with Jeff and his dog. I had places to go and people to see so I turned around, sounded the horn in farewell to Jeff and went back to the office.
Food speaks...
We have a social work student on field placement with us. She, I think reluctantly, participates in some of the food preparation for the drop-in centre. My wife says that the food preparation is part of social work, even though it may be looked down upon. By serving food, by doing dishes, by breaking the ice with people as we share food with them, we are saying that they are important, they are loved. I have to agree. Some of our guests only come for the food. I have found, however, that when you take a plate around and offer food as if they were an important guest in your house, you can often sense an openness, a breaking down of barriers that nothing else could do. The gift of food and its preparation speaks to people about acceptance, welcome and affirmation. It is "social work"!

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The attic ladder installed

Closing the ladder at the end of the nights work.
Bolting it into place.
Son in law Dave coming down the newly installed ladder.
Tonight after tea we continued to work on the room at my daughter's place. The attic ladder was officially installed. Again a thought out plan all came to fruition without any hitches. We did well. Next we put a new ceiling up. Saturday is the next working bee.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Tuesday toil...

It looks like I am posing but I was just trying to get out of the way.

Tomorrow night the lowering stairway gets installed.

The last wall to be ready for gib board.
Today has been quite an interesting day. I spent most of the morning working with a social work student on Night Shelter stuff... progressing toward a positive project we put before the board on Thursday night. I did ambulance and fire service chaplaincies and spent time discussing things with a night shelter friend. It is exciting times that seem to be all coming together with a great team of people.
Work finished about 6 p.m. and I went and worked on my daughter's renovations. We dwanged out the last wall of the room ready for gib board. We then cut a hole in the ceiling and fixed up the frame work, ready for the installation of an attic ladder which lowers out of the ceiling. It was great. We thought out what we wanted to do, we worked methodically through all the steps and it all came together beautifully. You feel good about such things and you gain confidence in your own abilities and skill level. A late but enjoyable night.
When we got home we collected the mail and we got a lovely letter of congratulation for becoming a grandparents from a friend in Palmerston North. We had been talking with her on the phone over the weekend. She is a widow, her husband died while we were in Europe nearly two years ago. They were good to us when we were in Palmerston North. Here's what she wrote; "I read a saying - 'I like me when I am with you.' I can honestly say Laurie (her husband) and I always felt that with you two." That warmed the cockles of my heart on this cold night. :-)

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Sunday night blobbing.. "What's Christianity?"

Tonight I have just blobbed out in front of TV. I seemed to have been busy lately and as soon as I stopped this afternoon, I fell asleep.
Today I led a service on "If the Church were Christian it would care more about love and less about sex." While I did not reveal my total liberalism on the subject, I did try to expand people's thinking. I gave examples of how Church legalism on matters sexual had been life and love inhibiting, rather than life enhancing. I suggested that Jesus would not break relationships with people who lived by different standards, that he would look past the issues we have and see the person, and that his God and Father would be more interested in us having loving, fulfilling, life enhancing intimate relationships. He would be more interested in relationship than legalistic rules and regulations. It was a tiring service, because I knew I was dealing with a tricky and sensitive issues so it required a lot of concentration to make sure I worded it strongly, but sensitively. I had to fight the temptation to be brazen or crass just to stir the pot and look "modern". It was an interesting exercise.
It may have been the subject but I enjoyed a number of indepth discussions after church. I had some good positive feedback about the service, but again I enjoyed conversations with some openness and meaning. I t was time well spent.
Tonight I listened to a sermon by Marcus Borg. I have listened to it before and found his summary of "What is Christianity about?" something I can say "Amen" too. I think I would want to add a bit more "love in action" emphasis... that we are transformed not just by thinking, worship and praying but as we get involved in giving and serving, transformation takes place. But I liked his summary. It is only 15 minutes and worth a listen for its content. (Though he is not the most dynamic of speakers - he is evocative and thoughtful.)
Today my friend and I tried a short spell of running... It was slow and short but it did feel good. I want to run again! I hope I can build up slowly again.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

People, people and more people.

The "Round table" and in the background couch & coffee table where much discussion takes place in Space2B
I am sitting in my office having a break before our Friday night Drop-in centre starts. Today I came in to the office with lots of things I had to do. I had some administrative things to do. I had to visit a chaplaincy site, as well as do my normal Friday Chaplaincies. But my day has not got started really. A group was going to use our drop-in area for a meeting so I went up there to tidy it up, and sweep the stairs. I then came down to my office to check emails. A couple who head away on a big OE for three months came in and took my wife and I out for coffee. I came back to the Church and began to talk with an Iraqi man who was visiting Space2B while his wife was next door at Women Across Cultures. (He had an interesting question. He said he heard a young woman say she was "Naked" and yet she was clothed? After asking lots of questions we worked out that she was saying "Knackered" and we had to explain what that was. Then he asked us to explain the "Brass Monkey" Motorbike Rally. Why "Brass Monkey"?  That took some explaining. He told us that he once got "gay" and "guy" confused with hilarious results. It is interesting seeing our language and idioms from another point of view.) Our conversation was interrupted by a Japanese lady who wanted to ask various questions, take photos and exchange email addresses. She runs a settlement group in town and wanted to work in with us. The Iraqi and I went on to talk about all sorts of things including religion, his faith and mine. Others joined us and I was sort of stuck there, even though I needed to go over to St John Ambulance. The morning was completely gone with no "work" work done. I went to St John and talked to people there going through tough times. Back at the Church there were others I had to talk with. At around three the fire stations were expecting me so I went there to converse with yet another group of people, then to a wedding rehearsal. The whole day has been used up in talking with people and my plans for the day have gone out the window! In exactly half an hour, at 6:30 p.m. I will open the door to our drop in centre folk and I will have another three hours of conversing with people. (We ended up having at least 50 people through!) Sometimes my St John Ambulance paramedics will joke and say, "This job would be great if it wasn't for the patients!" My job would be a lot easier to get through if I did not have to talk with people! I guess it is my job... but other deadlines await!

The Drop-in centre a minute before opening time.

Not long after opening... 40+ people have arrived. (many hidden behind the counter and piano. )

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Lunch time rant

Where have all the statesmen gone?
I notice the death of Sir Brian Tallboys who was once a National Party M.P. He was around in the days when there were a few real statesmen in politics. I never voted for his party I would have to say, but on both sides of the house there were gentlemen politicians who you could respect and you knew, even though you differed from them, they were men of integrity. Many of today's politicians seem like street fighters compared to some of these guys.  I guess early politicians were not as exposed to the media as the current crop, but there does seem to be a real difference.
One on every committee.
From my teenage years on Youth Committees through to today I have been on a myriad of committees both within the church and in the community. I think every committee I have been on has its people or person who is pedantic! These are the people who make the progressive dreamers on the committees jump through every hoop to get things done. In some ways they are good because they make you examine your dreams. Often however, they feel like a lead weight holding back any change or progress. Bless them, but I often want to scream - "Lighten up!"

A night time working bee.

Son-in-law David checking the state of the weatherboard in his over 100yr old house.
Staggered dwangs (noggins in the North Island and Australia)
My drop saw comes into its own with such work.
Tonight we took all the timber sarking off another wall at my daughter's place. We took all the nails out of the wall and got one row of dwangs (noggins) in. The old wood is really really hard to nail through. It was a good night's work. The cars were frosted up before we headed home. I am enjoying using my drop saw. Tools well used are an investment. I will really love the change this work will make to this planned guest room - when it is completed.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

The new Night Shelter location.

The new Dunedin Night Shelter buildings. My mate John is standing beside it. He is  the latest Trust Board member and already so valuable!

The above photos are of the new Dunedin Night Shelter at 18 Lees Street. We are renting two units. The front one is for emergency accommodation and the one behind will be used for meeting a need for short to long term accommodation. Hopefully the rent from the back one will assist in covering the rent for the front one. This is a big step forward for the Night Shelter Trust... lots of thought and a little lost sleep have gone into it. It is exiting to be a part of this group. Being chairman adds to my life experience and while being full on, is a very positive part of my life.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Citizens of the globe.

It is Queens Birthday and I spent today working on renovations at my daughter's house.
We put this frame work in forgetting that the ladder we were standing on splayed at the end.
We had real difficulty extracting it!  
I do love doing carpentry - just plain hard physical work.

I was reading an article about the issues facing immigrants in France. Jean-Luc Melenchon asks a question; "Shouldn't people feel at home wherever they are? How many generations are we going to p... off with this question of immigration and where were you born?" This prompted me to think about the common attitude in many countries now. Immigrants are not welcomed! We had an English couple, immigrants to NZ call at Space2B at Church in their first few weeks of being in the country. They were in a bit of culture shock and were grumpy about several things related to life in New Zealand. It prompted me to ask them, "Why did you leave the UK?" Their response was quick and definite, "Too many immigrants!" and they ranted about the blacks, Muslims, Pakistani's etc. that had taken over their country. I stifled a common comment by New Zealanders about "too many moaning pommes taking over our country!" My son is in Scotland and by the sound of it catches some flack about being an immigrant there. (He is Maori/Samoan so probably is easily noticed) The tragic shootings in Norway indicate this anti-immigrant attitude. It is not bad but a growing feeling around New Zealand, particularly against asians and sometimes Muslim people suffer. Australia has its share of anti-immigrant reaction.  Melenchon's question got me thinking again about being "Global citizens". 

It intrigues me. We struggle to raise funds to keep a viable Night Shelter (for people) going in Dunedin, but an Eco-sanctuary just out of town somehow generated millions of dollars to look after native birds and plants.  Similarly Pandas in China will attract heaps of sympathy, money and love from people throughout the world, but when Asian people come to our shores looking for a decent lifestyle, we say "Go home!" How about we begin to feel a solidarity with all people, like we feel linked to Pandas, native birds and local fauna? How about we see ourselves as citizens of this world? How about we recognise that the problems we face in this world belong to all of us? How about we truly see ourselves as brothers and sisters on the journey of life? A song we sing in Church goes;
We are pilgrims on a journey,
 and companions on the road;
 we are here to help each other
 walk the mile and bear the load.

This is essentially true when the "we" encompasses all people every where. The President in the United States makes a statement and economic markets throughout the world react. We are all impacted. The economies of some relatively small country trembles and world currencies shudder. Forests are cut down in the South American continent, and the weather changes in the Northern Hemisphere. The problems of people facing famine and political oppression in Zimbabwe are really issues the human family must feel. The struggles of the drug addict on Dunedin, NZ streets, are my concern even though I have never touched such drugs. They are my brother or sister! I had a guy come to me at our drop-in on Friday night asking for a blanket, he was sleeping out during freezing nights in Dunedin! I offered the services of the Night Shelter and began to dial the number. "No" he said, he had overstayed his welcome there, and besides "they make you get up early!" He was desperate for food too. Another guy offered him a bed - he took my blanket anyway - but why was he in such dire straits? He gets a benefit?  What addiction consumes his money? Another guy came up, away with the fairies on drugs of some sort. He is often drunk. I said to my wife when we got home, "How would you feel if these guys were your son?" ... It would be heartbreaking... but they are my brothers!

I just think we would truly begin to deal with the massive problems facing our communities and our world if we stopped trying to put people in boxes and saw ourselves as a family, on a journey. When we classify people as untouchable, immigrants, another race, a different class etc. etc. we add to the problems the world faces!

I recall as a student minister visiting an elderly couple. Looking at the photos on the wall I asked about the family. I got told about various ones and their success, but one was never mentioned. I pointed to him in a photo, "What's his name? Where is he?" "He" was somewhere, probably doing no good, - end of discussion. It was like "he" did not exist. He was not a good little Christian boy. They did not want to know about him. They did not want me to know about him. We are often like that. People near and far are struggling with one problem or another, and we don't want to know about them. They are our brothers and sisters, but we are like ostriches burying our heads in the sand.

Some of the words by Bob Dylan that Peter Paul and Mary sang go like this;
How many times must the cannonballs fly
Before they're forever banned?

How many years can some people exist
Before they're allowed to be free?

How many times can a man turn his head
and pretend that he just doesn't see?

Yes, how many ears must one man have
Before he can hear people cry ?

How many deaths will it take till he knows
That too many people have died?
The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind
The answer is blowing in the wind.

We naive teenage visionaries loved this song nearly five decades ago. The questions still challenge. The answers are still "Blowin' in the wind!"  The world is so much smaller now. We are much closer to each other. We need to be acting and thinking as global citizens, brothers and sisters in the human family! 

I think it was Dag Hammarskjold who wrote;
"Human beings are like parts of a body
created from the same essence.
When one part is hurt and in pain,
the others cannot remain in peace and be quiet.
If the misery of others leaves you indifferent
and with no feelings of sorrow
you cannot be called a human being." 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

What's going to happen?

The old fireplace and chimney at our daughter & son-in-laws' house.
The two Daves (son-in-law & me) pulling the chimney to peices.

Further down... I am as stuffed as I look.

End product. Tomorrow we take the sarking off the walls and add frame work.

My wife stacked the bricks... the mortar fell off them.

Latest grand daughter pic... she has grown so much in a week! 
I do wonder what is in store for our community, western society and the world? I have always been concerned and try in my small way to make a difference for good. It may be that having a grand daughter has heightened my concern. Let me outline some events.
We have had a city councillor get caught drink driving for the second time. He is an intelligent leader in the community, but he drinks and drives. I have little patience with intelligent adults doing such things. It is just so dangerous for other innocent people! Here we have a community leader without the commonsense to make other arrangements when he has had a few. It is a sad reflection on our community. Another city councillor wrote a nasty personal email sent around to others, to his enemy on the council. From what I saw, it read like the rantings of a mad man! He has had to apologise, but good grief again a community leader acting like a fruit loop! I am disappointed often with the antics and calibre of the people in leadership positions in our community. There are few true statesmen.
There have been images on TV again of the mayhem of binge drinking on our streets. A paramedic told me that these were not isolated cases confined to big Auckland city but nearly every night occurrences on our city streets in Dunedin. The damage caused, the waste of hospital, ambulance and police resources and in many cases the stuffed up lives are all tragic. Some people interviewed said that they had to "top up" so that they could feel uninhibited enough to dance and party. A bit sad, not being confident enough to be themselves. Where are we falling down, the numbers are horrific.
All around I hear of people losing jobs because of the financial squeeze. I am not convinced about our government's handling of the situation, I think once again it will be the poorer or more vulnerable people carrying the brunt of the problem. I also feel there are blatant and not so blatant attempts at social engineering, which makes you wonder where it will stop. The gap between rich and poor widens and is one of the widest.  I used to think NZ was a pretty egalitarian place to live but not any more.
In the wider world....
I was watching TV and the goings on in the Australian Parliament. Once again leaders in the community behaving in immature ways. I receive emails loaded with anti-muslim sentiments with war mongering intent. The Greek economy is apparently fragile and could like a line of dominos cause more economic woes for Europe and further afield.
 I was talking to an Iraqi man and asking him why the Iraqi people seem to be turning against one another. He commented that when you feel your people or your family is going to starve your morals go out the window. That is what is worrying me. We live in a a world with a fragile economy. We have tense relationships between some nations and cultures. One of the attitudes in response to this situation is to build bigger fences between "us" and "the others" and to look for scapegoats to hate or blame. We can search for strength by pushing a dangerous "us against them" mentality. This happens internationally. (President Bush's "If you are not with us you are against us" statement.) It can also happen locally. ( Beneficiaries, Maori - whoever - are causing the government overspending.) In other cash strapped times there were accepted moral guidelines. I'm not sure that people were more deeply spiritual or moral but there were community reinforced roles or ways of behaving that kept life running on reasonable lines. These days we don't have that sort of accepted community standards and pressure. People are much more all out for themselves. I tend to think that as communities in the western world we do not have sufficient people with the moral or spiritual grounding or foundations that enable us to react constructively, peacefully and in a unified way to the problems that confront us as communities and on a worldwide scale. I fear for the future. I also feel that whether people are rich or poor we often lack a deep sense of meaning and purpose in life. We have, if you like, a massive poverty of substantial meaning or spiritual depth. Where there is a vacuum all sorts of other lesser meanings (like the scape goats, "tribalism", racism or an unhealthy patriotism) can fill the gap. Sufficient to say that I am fearful of the future.
I see some signs of hope. I meet various people who may not have a traditional christian spirituality, but are finding a connection with the environment and are moving on to sense a solidarity with all creation including humankind. I enjoy being around these people and their attitudes give me some hope. I may sound pessemistic. I do meet lots of people, and nearly all are good fun to know, are generally kind and well meaning. But I am fearful they do not have deeper foundations and when the pressure comes on I fear they will slide into reacting in ways that "look after number one" only.  Then again, when the pressure comes on it may cause them to discover a deeper essence and unity in life and they will make noble choices. I hope so.
DIY experiences...
Our daughter and her husband helped us with our bathroom so it is our turn to help them. They are doing up, insulating and lining a room in their house. Yesterday we pulled down a chimney and old fire place. I also went to the Night Shelter to do a couple of little jobs. One was installing stays on two window frames. Unfortunately I cracked a window. Oh well .... you cant win them all!