Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

A frustrating time! ..A cathartic grump.

I recall when I was plumbing that the foreman wanted me to run a series of pipes into what was going to be a laboratory. The pipes were lines on a plan. As I began to sort out the job I realised that the pipes they wanted would not all fit into the space available. My foreman Bill was not very complimentary about the architect and draftsman. “If the stupid @*#* had added up the sizes of the bloody pipes they would know their scheme would not work! It’s easy to draw lines, much harder to install pipes!” he said in graphic plumbers’ language.  As tradesmen we got used to this sort of muck up. The architects dreamed up things that just could not work in practice. The people at the coalface could have told them that! We had to adapt and make it work as best we could.
I have found this sort of thing again and again in chaplaincy workplaces. Managers will dream up new schemes or ways of doing things and when the people on the floor see it they say, “That can’t work! Get real!” Often there is little real consultation or listening to the people who have to make it work. I know that as a Night Shelter Trust Board we have sometimes come up with ideas, but when we have talked to the man who has to supervise the shelter he has said sometimes “No, that sounds good but won’t work in practice!” Managers and boards often do not listen to the people at the coalface, and can indeed make life difficult for them by not doing so.
In my career in the Church, in chaplaincies and community groups I have found the same thing. Sometimes I have been part of the perpetrators on a board, sometimes I have been the frustrated coalface person. Because of health issues I did not get much sleep last night. Today I have found myself trying to make something work. It was a difficult and frustrating time. I know that if the powers-that-be had listened to me I could have something much better going.  Life would be easier and there would be more control. In the midst of the frustration of today, a tired me got angry all over again at decisions made by those who are not there to try to make them work. I felt like my dream was being limited, wrecked and distorted. I felt like I was trying to do the impossible and was angry because my warnings about this happening fell on deaf ears.
The clock cannot be wound back now, and we have to do the best we can, but it is none the less heartbreaking.  A friend of mine often says, “Build a bridge - get over it.” I guess that’s what we often have to do. Life and work will never be perfect!

Sunday, August 26, 2012

I experienced "God" - "Stupid people, why oh why?"

I bumped into God
A few hours on Friday was spent in chaplaincies. At lunch time I spent time at St John Ambulance. In the afternoon I visited fire stations. In the evening I excused myself from our drop-in centre and spent some time at "farewell drinks" at St John for the mechanics who have been made redundant. In each of these places I experienced "the sacred" or "God". 
I need to tell you that I did not mention "God" or religion in our conversations.  Our conversations were about life. I had a whole lot of consecutive one-on-one conversations. We talked about work, family, getting older, cancer, death, hospital, illnesss, redundancies etc etc. We had serious conversation. Some sad topics. We sometimes laughed. We shared experiences. I finished the night feeling extremely privileged. In conversation after conversation the people talked with me openly and shared about their experiences, their thoughts and their feelings. Somehow I came away feeling like something sacred had just happened. In saying goodbye they said, "Yeah see ya Dave. Been real nice catching up." or "Good to chat Father Ted" or "Thanks man!"  I was not there as their counsellor. They were asking about my health as well, it was a mutual meeting.  The thing that made these conversations special was that we were listening to each other and somehow we connected. In that connection, in that shared interest and concern I experienced "the sacred". I believe in God because I bump into him in firefighters, in ambo's and in relationships. We sing a song at Church. It goes like this...

Who is moving through the silence.
gentle as the summer rain? 
Who is standing in the doorway, 
knocking, asking to come in?
The third and fourth verse go...
3. Father, I have seen your Kingdom 
in the streets of little towns, 
in the shadows of the city 
when we gather in your name.
4. Father, I have seen your Kingdom 
in the eyes of those who love. 
In the mercy of your people 
I have seen your Kingdom come.

That was my experience on Friday. In real relationships with real people I bump into "the sacred" or "God". I am indeed fortunate.
People who do silly things..
I bumped into sad people this week too, and I felt exasperated by them. Here are three...

  • A man came into Space2B and I was told he wanted to see me. I have known him for years. He has recently been discharged from an enforced stay in mental health facilities.  He yelled at me that he was on the street again because he had been kicked out by yet another landlord. Of course it wasn't his fault, he had not caused the problem, it was the nasty landlord. "What are you going to do about it?" he demanded. "What's the community going to do about it?" I told him he could stay at the night shelter. "The Night Shelter! They don't want me! Thats full of drug addicts. Same as your drop-in centre!" he snapped at me. I assured him the Night Shelter would have him. He did annoy people with his last visit. He sat up in bed at about 2 a.m. and started reading the Bible out loud! I suggested that maybe he had to modify his behaviour and he would not have so much trouble finding accommodation. "Well thank you!" he said sarcastically. "No wonder we have people shot in Afghanistan with people like you around." He stormed out, walking against the lights across a busy intersection giving "the finger" to annoyed drivers who were trying to avoid him. He has mental health issues. He never seems to learn. Years ago I used to be able to have a rational conversation with him but he has deteriorated. Should he have been discharged? Why can't he see sense?
  • When I left the Drop-in centre everybody was happy. There was a man there playing pool who regularly gets upset when he is losing. He is a bully in his fifties and tries to intimidate people. We have warned him and chastised him and put up with him literally for years. The last time he got stroppy I suggested that if he does not change we will have to ban him. The drop-in centre is a much more relaxed place when he is not there. Well while I was away at St John he threw a wobbly. Apparently my wife stepped in. He told her he was not listening to her and kept looking to fight somebody. My wife who was mother to three boys and two girls, has been a school teacher, has dealt with groups of people of various ages for years, apparently told him off for his behaviour and suggested solutions. When he still refused to listen she firmly stood in front of him, pointed to the door and said, "Go! Go home now! And you need not come back." The bully had met his match, and he slunk out the door. Silly man. He could, if he modified his behaviour have fun, but he refuses to change. Why? Exasperating man! He will be so lonely. We have run the drop-in since 1995 and he is the first person we have banned. (We have asked him and others to leave on just a few occasions)
  • Early in the night we had this attractive 30ish woman come in and talk briefly with me. She was asking for food while holding her beanie hat in front of her mouth in a vain attempt to hide her alcohol breath. We had been involved with her last year when she was in crisis. She and her friend stayed a while and talked with some others she knew. They then left, only to return briefly just before we closed the doors. My wife discovered her drugged and boozed down stairs spraying the contents of the fire extinguisher around.  Intelligent, beautiful and has been offered heaps of support and help, but still stupidly addicted to drugs and alcohol. She goes from crisis to crisis and sometimes to prison. It seems she doesn't want to change. Why oh why? 
That's just a sample of three in two days. There are others I could tell you about. Our society spits them out regularly. They don't have the motivation to change. I am saddened by their situation. I also find that they could suck you dry if you let them. We have learned to be caring but pretty "hard" at the same time. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Thinking out loud about gay marriage

I received an email today urging me to “save marriage” and sign a petition against the bill going before parliament seeking the right for gay people to marry. The email assumed that since I was a Christian minister I would happily sign it and help “save marriage”. I sat at my desk reading the information, which was very brief and irrational. It just confuses me. How can giving two people the right to make a public commitment to a long term, responsible and intimate relationship be a danger to marriage?
I like the diagram my daughter affirmed on facebook. It is true. The real biblical perspective on sexuality and marriage is not as straightforward as it is often assumed. There are a lot of ancient cultural influences, and we cannot willy nilly choose some and not others. Here, briefly, is my perspective on homosexuality/lesbian relationships.
The “nature-nurture” question
I have read so many different articles, essays and the occasional book on this subject. I have known a number of gay people, most of whom were in stable, life enhancing relationships. There are writings that tell us “gayness” is a natural state and that the people do not choose to be gay. Then there are articles and testimonies from “ex-gay” people who claim to have been “cured”.  Of course there are the religious people who say that even if it is a “natural state” such people should stay “chaste” and not express their sexuality. The “act” is the “sin”, not “being gay.” Other articles claim that “gayness” happens because of environmental issues, family dynamics, abuse or some other events in their life. It is assumed by “righteous” people then, that the right counselling, praying or attitudes could set them straight.
I read this one essay that to me had a ring of truth about.  I cannot remember the author or where I found it, but it seemed to me to be true to life. This claimed that we are all, by our birth, somewhere on a continuum between definitely hetero through to definitely gay. Those born gay will be gay, and those who are definite hetero will be hetero. It is not a choice you make. There are those who are somewhere in the middle of the continuum, (perhaps they could be bi?) and for them some environmental factors could lead them to be either gay or hetero. For most in this situation, because our culture favours hetero, they will become hetero.  Others, because of life events could become gay. It seems to me that the gays who claim to be “cured” probably fall into this midstream category. So I see the confusion of articles and essays about the “nature-nurture” question of “gayness” to stem from this sort of reality. I do not think any choose to be gay, it just is the way they are. I cannot conceive of a person choosing to be gay, even in our more liberal and open society, it would bring so many extra challenges into life.  I have concluded that “nature”, ( in some cases, with the added influence of “nurture”) made gay people who they are.
God and Gays
I do not think the God of love would deny a gay person his/her expression of love through sexual intimacy. Love between people is love and to me the expression of that through sexual intimacy and play enhances, affirms and builds the bond between two people. This is true of hetero relationships, but also true of gay partnerships. I do not believe that it is wrong for people to express their love in this way. If you like, I think “God smiles” wherever life-enhancing love is expressed. Now if I am a definite heterosexual I may struggle to accept or find commonality with the lovemaking of a gay couple.  It may even repulse me. This inability to put oneself in another’s situation, I believe, causes much of the anti-gay feeling and reaction. Love though, is love and is good, full stop! Intimacy at its highest, from intimacy of minds and hearts through to the same intimacy expressed in sexual play also is life enhancing and good. This, as I see it applies to hetero couples and gays. (Promiscuity, for both gays and heterosexuals, is to my mind, not life enhancing, nor person affirming.) I have come to believe that our physical intimacy should be representative of and express whatever personal intimacy we have. When the two align, I believe it is “of love” and fits in God’s purposes for wholesome, and fulfilling living and relating.  This is true whether we are gay or hetero.
We have tended to define marriage as between male and female. It is also linked to the rearing of a family. But isn’t it delightful when two eighty year olds find love and commit to marriage? We do not refuse to marry them, even though no family can result.  At it’s heart marriage is a committed responsible intimate relationship between two people who love one another and choose to keep that love alive. It is a public commitment to be responsible, caring toward each other, and to nurture the health of that relationship. A good marriage is one of the greatest experiences in life, you always have that one person you are “at home with” and who is there for you. It is a deeply affirming anchor point in life. The act of becoming married enhances that relationship and can be an ongoing living motivational springboard, which keeps the relationship healthy, bonded, and deepening. I do not believe it is right to deny that sort of relationship, that sort of public commitment to a gay partnership! It can only help gay couples to better express the reality of their life together and what they mean to one another. From my perspective, marriage is defined by the commitment to responsible relationship. Allowing gay’s to marry does nothing to destroy this! In fact it gives the opportunity for others to express its reality in their partnership and their lives.
I will not be signing the petition nor will I be passing the email on.

Monday, August 20, 2012

DIY work on my day off.

Today, Monday, is my day off. This morning we took a roll of carpet to Phoenix Lodge at the Night Shelter. We mucked around there a little bit checking things out, then did some shopping and came home for lunch. The rain was falling without a break so there could be no outside work. I decided to get stuck into a couple of jobs in my workshop. Using mostly old timber I constructed the Workplace Support symbol as a jigsaw puzzle. The CEO had asked if I could do this for a retreat coming up in a couple of weeks. I was pleased with what I managed to do. It was funny. I cut the fish up and sanded the various parts, then I had the most difficult job working out how it all fitted together again. My wife suggested I take a photo so that it could be a reference point. There are 25 parts to the fish representing the 25 people working for Workplace Support in the Southern Region. I hope it is what the boss wanted? It is yet to be painted.
I then pulled some shelving apart and began to build a bench unit which will replace an old dresser inside our back door. I enjoyed the fact that I could visualise what I wanted to do and work it all out. At one stage I thought I was going to run out of suitable framing timber, but suddenly remembered a length I had stored in the rafters. Next Monday or perhaps one night this week I'll finish it all. It was quite nice just settling down to do physical DIY work. It cleared my head. Roll on retirement when I can do so much more of these sort of projects.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Minister = boring... Yeah right! Don't think so.

It is funny that in a social setting people often do not know how to talk with ministers. They hear that you are a minister and look for an excuse to escape. This is especially true if you are an old minister, like I am. They expect "boring"!  But I am an almost 64 year old church minister and I do not find life boring. What follows is a quick march through some events in my week from Sunday afternoon until Sunday afternoon.
Sunday afternoon... 12 August... Went to Ross Home elderly persons rest home and conducted a service using power points and video clips for hymns. It was a lot of work to set up the stereo, computer and data projector, but the positive feedback was overwhelming.
Monday... After running around on Monday morning checking some things out for the night shelter, I was asked to appear on the local TV station to be interviewed about the Night Shelter that evening. It was a new experience being interviewed live in the TV news. I did not do too bad.
Tuesday.... Went into the office and received a phone call from a man wanting me to take him into the ED department at the hospital. I did and ended up hosting this man in my office for the greater part of the day. Both he and his wife were ill and going through a rough time. I picked up some pills from the hospital pharmacy and delivered him home by 3 p.m.
- I visited fire stations where I learned that one of the fire fighters was gravely ill after a heart attack during in the weekend. I listened to many reactions to this news as I went on my rounds.
Wednesday... After an hour or so of reading and service preparation I had coffee with a woman prison chaplain who was keen for me to do some work among released prisoners. For once I said "no". (or not yet)   At 2p.m. I went on a shopping spree buying bedding, carpet and other stuff for Phoenix Lodge at the Night Shelter. We are setting up a seven bedroom house for short term three month stays, and I am keen to get it going. I was driven around in a Mercedes V6 with all sorts of extras. The driver, my friend John, could talk to the car and it would dial numbers or give him street directions to get to an address. It had fancy GPS built in and heaps of other features. Upon returning to the office a call from my brother who was at Brisbane airport, had me visiting my nephew at 5 p.m. to check out a funny noise in his car. "He does not know much about cars so needs some guidance." Off I went in the rain to play mechanic.
Thursday... In the morning I had an important meeting of some of the Night Shelter Trustees. We dealt with some tricky issues in preparation for the Trust Board meeting that night. I had arranged a stand in chairman for the evening meeting.
- The evening for me was spent at Speights brewery as their workplace chaplain, at a function to hear about new developments they are working on there. I spent a couple of hours on the brew floor having a couple of beers and nibbles and chatting with various people. I was warmly greeted by an ex-firefighter and his wife and we caught up on each other's life. It was an enjoyable night. I learned too that a fire fighter had been taken to hospital with a broken leg so I texted with him.
Friday... Visiting St John Ambulance at lunch time I spoke with mechanics who are to be made redundant at the end of the month. It is a sad time for them. I found myself fixing the coffee machine in the kitchen there. I transported some medication to Tuesday's sick man and briefly chatted. Then two and a half hours of visiting fire stations followed with some "heavy" conversations. I finished the day at the drop-in centre until 9:30 / 10 p.m. where about 40 people called through. I talked with many and played table tennis with about three different guys. A teenager I played with seemed to glow with his success. The more he grew in confidence the wider his smile went. One man who walked in I had not seen for about a year. He had been gravely ill, but he looked well and sober. I have known him for a long time and he greeted me with warmth and respect. I could not help but remember the various incidents we had been involved in together over the years where drink or drugs had the better of him.
Saturday... most of Saturday was spent at home, but in the afternoon I went to the medal presentations at the Fire Station. The fire fighters receive medals for their years of service. I enjoyed the time because I could catch up on so many of them and meet their wives. I also caught up on a number of retired fire fighters who greeted me warmly. I felt important and included.
Sunday... I led the morning service and mostly it went well. As I was leaving the service I had a phone call from Tuesday's sick man. He had ended up with stomach problems and had spent much of the night on the toilet. Then the toilet blocked up! Knowing that I was once a plumber he asked if I could assist. I had a speedy lunch and went up. I was so fortunate. I found the appropriate cleaning eye, managed to unscrew it and had the drain unblocked in a matter of minutes. (Without getting my hands dirty)  It looked so impressive!
A walk with my friend finished the afternoon.

Rest Home service to brewery brew floor conversations. A live TV interview to unblocking poo in a household drain. Deep conversations with emergency service personnel, to table tennis and soup with mental health patients. Dealing with Night Shelter issues through to checking out a nephew's car. Preparing and presenting a church service to doing things for a sick couple. It is challenging, life enhancing and not "boring elderly minister" stuff.  These are just the broad brush strokes of my week. I have felt under pressure and stressed but I am grateful for the range of experiences my lifestyle leads me into.

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Lessons from new spectacles

I got new glasses today. It intrigues me. They cost over five hundred dollars. I can buy off the shelf reading glasses with similar frames for twenty dollars or less! Somebody is ripping somebody off? But you have to have them. I have been sitting here playing with my old glasses and my new ones to see how they compare. I am pleased with the improvement all around. By comparing I found out three things.
My old glasses are scratched and dirty.
Without me really noticing it my old glasses had got scratched and dirty in a way that no amount of cleaning could change. The non-glare coating was coming off and the resultant smudge was distorting my vision.  - I got to thinking how many experiences in life have distorted my vision or understandings without me noticing?
My eyes have changed since my old glasses were prescribed.
In my new glasses things at are distance are now clearer. (my distant vision has improved) My reading vision through my new glasses is better too. My two eyes had become different and had deteriorated in terms of my short vision. (They are progressive lenses)  - Sometimes we have to throw out the "old glasses" and put on the new to see more truly in life. The old ways of seeing things no longer fit our experiences of life.
I can see and notice so much more of the world around me.
In my new glasses, I am noticing detail that I used to miss in my old glasses. The detail was always there, but I was not seeing it. Sometimes with the "glasses" (attitudes, perspectives and limitations) we choose to put on in life we fail to see reality that is there to be seen. I was talking to a prison chaplain today and she says she prefers not to know what crime the prisoners she talks to did to get them imprisoned. She said that if she knew it would colour her way of seeing them. She prefers to get to know them as a person, before she knows their crime, "then" she said, "you see the real person more clearly." Often because of the categories we choose to view the world with, we fail to see clearly all there is to see.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Me live on TV... and two great lines.

On live TV
I was interviewed on TV tonight. Around lunch time I had the local channel 9 TV phone me and ask if I would come in and be interviewed tonight about the night shelter. I agreed and the reporter sent me a list of questions. I went through the list and worked out an answer for each. He had told me I would be in there for about 20 minutes so I thought maybe a five - ten minute interview. I went in and during an advertisement break in the news I was ushered in to the studio and the chair. The woman told me, "No one word answers but the interview is a max of three minutes so don't talk long on each question. I had been given a list of six questions, some of them double barreled.  Though I speak fluently without notes every Sunday, under pressure I tend to get a bit flustered and not very articulate, saying "um" a lot or "sort of" or "you know". My wife warned me about this. I did quite well I thought but she did throw in about three questions I was not prepared for, so I was more hesitant on these. I have been interviewed for TV before, but it has always been edited after the interview. This time it was being broadcast as we were speaking, it was a very different feel. It was another experience in life's journey. Some months ago I used to visit the Allied Press building as chaplain. It was a strange feel going up the familiar stairway and through the hallways in a different capacity. There was a part of me who wanted to shoot through a couple of doorways and catch up on friendships I made as chaplain. I did not get my carpentry done. Most of the day has been spent stewing on various Night Shelter issues. It lloks like another week with heaps of things to deal to.
A quote
I sometimes get on my computer and just watch You Tube clips on various subjects. I watched clips last night on the emerging Church. One leader said something like this, "The systems of this world are united by the love of power. The Kingdom of God is about the power of love." It is so true. Unfortunately a lot of "Churchianity" and worldly Christianity tends to be about the "love of power" also. Another clip was interviewing Tony Compolo (who seems to have become more "liberal") who said this great line... "The Church is a whore, but she is also my mother!" That I guess is the space that I have lived in during my whole ministry. Disgusted by the Church's unfaithfulness to Jesus, but at the same time valuing the Church as the place I received the story of Jesus, and where that story is looked after and passed on. I get angry at the "whore", but cannot turn my back on my "mother". I loved the line, it describes my experience.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Sunday simmerings

A busy week...
This last week has been busier than normal. We have been collecting on the streets and outside super markets for the Night Shelter.  I did not really have a day off last Monday so it has also seemed long. I hate taking pills and my latest doses of anti-biotics, along with other concoctions to keep my blood pressure down seem to be knocking me around a bit. I finished a service at an elderly person's rest home by mid-afternoon today and seemed to just collapse on my bed in a deep sleep for about an hour. There have been some good stories though.
Four delightful teenage girls.
I received an email a couple of weeks ago from some pupils of a Catholic Secondary School. These girls had been on a "Street Retreat" doing some learning relating to the needs of vulnerable people in Christchurch. They came back to Dunedin and one of their parents directed them to me, telling them that I work amongst the vulnerable in Dunedin. I finally got to meet them on Wednesday and we talked a little bit about what they could do. Upon hearing that the Night Shelter was in the middle of a street appeal these four girls offered to collect on Thursday. They were out there on the streets collecting for the homeless, which I thought was neat. They then asked for three buckets and having warned their school mates on Thursday, they took the buckets around classrooms on Friday delivering them back to the church. I meet with them this Tuesday to see what else they can do for the Night Shelter and our drop-in centre. It warms the heart of this old man to meet such thoughtful teenagers, they are delightful. Already a couple of my Night Shelter Trust friends have dubbed them, "Dave's girls!"
"I knew him before he was famous!"
I was a good boy on Tuesday morning and did what people try to get me to do more often. I delegated. One of the local radio stations wanted to interview me about the Night Shelter. The immediate past chairperson of the Trust has responsibility for "communications" so I asked him if he would do it. He is much more articulate than I am. He went along and was interviewed by the host of the show for about half an hour. As he left the studio the station's "powers-that-be" intercepted his progress out the door and asked if he would like a change of career. They were keen for him to do work at the station and got him to record a promotional thing there and then. I told him to remember that I knew him before he was famous. He is already very committed to a lot of community activities so I don't think he'll add DJ to his busy lifestyle. But it is a cute story.
Collecting is interesting.
I went out during the week and on Saturday doing some collecting, standing eyeballing people offering them the opportunity to give to a good cause. The thing that intrigued me was that I kept bumping into people I knew. A lady walked up to me and introduced herself, I did not recognise her at first. She used to run the coffee bar down the street. Another elderly man came and put some coins in my bucket, and I recognised him as a regular Christmas day meal volunteer from years back, not in as great a shape now. Habitat for Humanity home owners came by and greeted me like a long lost friend. Ex-firefighters I had not seen in years, chatted warmly and so it went on. One man I recognised as having been a part of my life "somewhere" came up and said, "You're the Dave Brown, aren't you?" "Yes" I said. "I have met you from time to time," he said, "I directed a lady to you just last night. Did you get a phone call?" When I said, "I was busy last night" he responded with, "I guess you are busy most nights!" Other complete strangers walked up and engaged in lively conversations. I received so much warm support for the work of the Night Shelter Trust, that I felt affirmed and encouraged. As I thanked people for their donation, many said, "No - thank you for being there!" I think many recognised me from being in the local paper in a feature about the Night Shelter. The reporter was a delightful Indian lady who I thought showed real respect, not like many reporters I have dealt with over the years.  
"I just wanted you to know."
A year or so ago I assisted a lady from overseas to move house.  I had been asked if I could help in what was for her an uncomfortable situation, but it was for me a bit of a fleeting interaction. (Except I remember feeling guilty that I scratched her fridge.) She now attends a "Women Across Cultures" group which meets in our buildings. On Friday she came up to me, standing directly in front to make sure I stopped walking, and told me that she now had NZ residency and a good job. "I just wanted you to know!" she said like I was important to her. I do think you never know the impact of small deeds of kindness.... Jesus' "cup of water in my name" line comes to mind. 
A precious gift...
Along with the Night Shelter appeal this weekend I had to prepare and present services for Sunday without my usual helpers. On Friday I thought I would never accomplish it and was quite stressed by it all. I had to lead a service at a elderly persons rest home this afternoon without my organist. I stressed about what to do. The other night I experimented and hooked my Macbook Pro up to my old stereo amplifier and speakers and learned that it sounded great. So I put together a powerpoint presentation of songs ("Great is thy faithfulness", "Amazing Grace", "I need thee every hour", "Have thine own way", and "Make me a channel of your peace." - video clips) and readings. I lugged my stereo to the chapel with a data projector, set it all up and my wife and I presented this half-hour service to these elderly folk. I have seldom had such a warm reaction and so many words and tears of appreciation. You would have thought I had given them a precious gift. It was a lot of work but so worth it.  I think the combination of old familiar spiritual songs sung by world class singers, with familiar Bible passages was like a healing balm to these, mostly immobile, "waiting for God" people near the end of their life. Sometimes I get it right... thankfully.

That's me this weekend ... the rain is falling and is to continue.  The lawn and paddock are sodden and I have a day off work tomorrow. I feel a bit stir crazy wanting to walk, bike or run. I plan to build a bench unit if it rains. A day of carpentry will be good for my soul.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

The Kingdom of God

In my reading for Sunday I came across this which I think is worth a listen. 

After years in Church ministry I am convinced that most Churches, Christians and non-Christians (who think they know) have essentially misunderstood Jesus. There is a part of me looking forward to breaking free of the distorted religion of the Church and not having to feel like I am carrying distorted baggage or having to compromise.

The Dunedin Night Shelter now has a website. You might like to check it out. There are several ways you may be able to help us out.

Sometimes I listen Keith. :-) 

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Mid week stewing...

Two NZ soldiers killed and others injured in Afghanistan
Over the weekend when we were celebrating rowing gold medals at the Olympics we got the news of two young men killed in Afghanistan fighting as NZ soldiers, and others quite badly wounded. On Sunday evening returning from my walk I called at a garage to buy petrol and saw on the counter war comics for sale. How I used to devour them as a child! I loved marching soldiers, warships and the odd occasions when my dad told war stories. (He did not often do it, just if some old soldier was visiting they sometimes shared experiences. He ended up a Regimental Sargent Major in the NZ Artillery in the Desert and in Italy.) Now I abhor war. The more I hear of the troubles in Europe, the Middle East and in Africa I realise that the destructive ripples of the two world wars fought many years ago, continue into this century. Our Prime Minister commented that both men were not married and did not have children, that it was good there were no children who lost a father. Yeah but..? There is still a profound loss in that direction, the loss of unborn sons and daughters and grandchildren, they will never be! I know it is two lives and the likes of America loses many more, but I am sad at such a loss. I hope they have not died in vain. I share two poems.
Waste of Muscle, waste of Brain,
Waste of Patience, waste of Pain,
Waste of Manhood, waste of Health, 
Waste of Beauty, waste of Wealth, 
Waste of Blood, and waste of Tears, 
Waste of Youth's most precious years, 
Waste of ways the Saints have trod, 
Waste of Glory, waste of God, - War!

By Studdart-Kennedy a famous chaplain of World War I
I .... What a fine statue!
Myself ...... It is Victory.
I .... Proud figure!
Myself .... We won the war.
I ..... Why, there's a tear in her eye!
Myself .... I know. We did not win the enemy.

- Arthur B. Rhinow.

Dr Martin Luther King said something like, "The only force that can turn an enemy into a friend is love!" I somehow think we add to the terror in the world by relying on military might and violent methods to bring about change. I am sad at the loss of life and the ongoing destruction of life, relationships and trust.

She got an Olympic Silver! Celebrate that!
When I checked the internet this morning the news said how our (NZ's) celebrated shot put champion Valerie Adams, had lost. "Valerie Adams falls short of shot put gold!" read the headlines. On the radio as I drove to the office various people were speculating why she lost. Everything sounded doom and gloom because we put expectations on her that she would win gold. Her opponent threw a distance Valerie has never thrown before. Valerie threw quite a bit further than she did when she got gold four years ago. But the way they were talking it was as if she came last? She did not get gold, but she did get an Olympic Silver, and that is worth celebrating! She did well! You go girl. You did fabulously anyway! We, the public and media, sit in our armchairs and put so much pressure on our athletes. Celebrate her effort and achievement! 
My wife up north enjoying grand daughter Edith.
Wifeless for a few days.
My wife has flown North to visit the much photographed grand daughter. I am home alone, able to eat and drink what I like, sleep diagonally across the bed and have my music up loud. I am sitting in my office now, heat pump cranked up high, "Diana Tribute" CD's playing loud with an after dinner beer. This morning I left home having done laundry, washed dishes, fed myself, the hens and the goats. I can cope! ... But I had to get up early to do it all. I am strange. I enjoy the house to myself for a time, but at the airport I had a lump in my throat because I would loved to have traveled with her. She was going to enjoy time with family and I will miss out on sharing that time with her. 

Scary "plumbing" problems
I have been suffering from some inconvenient and slightly scary men's "plumbing" problems. Today I had an appointment at a specialist's clinic at the hospital. They are going to try something over the next six weeks, if that doesn't work then they are going to admit me for some serious exploratory surgery. Of course there are many much worse off than I, but the uncertainty of it all is distracting. I have all these people expecting me to keep on doing stuff, and there is a part of me wanting to yell, "Hang on! Back off! I just want to hop off the treadmill a while so that I can get this sorted!" But it probably is a good thing to just keep doing the normal, but sometimes I want to scream, "But what about me?" "Lord give me patience... and I want it NOW!"
The Civic Centre (Town Hall) Dunedin where the City Council meets.
Prayer at the City Council meeting.
It was all a bit rushed because I had Night Shelter stuff to do on my day off, but on Monday I took my turn at opening the City Council meeting with a prayer. Last time I did this it felt like an insult to me and to God, since the city councillors seemed to be like naughty school kids forced to go through a meaningless ritual. I nearly turned the invitation down on this score. This occasion seemed better. My prayer went like this....

"Let's spend some time remembering the NZ soldiers killed and wounded in Afghanistan..... We think of families, friends here in NZ and colleagues in the defense forces - the impact this event will have on them all. .... May all be surrounded by supportive love at this time.
- We pray that their sacrifice will not be in vain. May there be a constructive, life affirming peace in that country in time to come.
- We are thankful for the Olympics - may this sporting event that creates a sense of unity and harmony send ripples throughout the world to make a difference in places of enmity and strife.
- We are thankful for Dunedin City, it's beautiful setting, the friendly culture and its special nature. We are thankful for the growing diversity of cultures and ethnicity amongst us. This enriches our life.
- We recognise too that many citizens face challenging circumstances in the current economic climate. Indeed we as a city face challenges also.
- We come Lord, recognising the awesome privilege and responsibility of being leaders in this community. We are thankful that each at this table brings knowledge, abilities and experience. We pray for wisdom and a sense of collegiality so that we can creatively deal with the challenges we face together and use what each brings. ... In Jesus name... Amen."

It was a rushed effort, while trying to do many other things. My prayer did a lot of good??? Headlines in the Newspaper this morning read.. "Allegations and threats flew when a Dunedin City Council meeting erupted yesterday ..."
Oh well I won't have to do it again... thank the Lord.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

"I need a few bucks to..."

"Can I have a few bucks?"
I love this drawing I got off the internet. I meet each as an individual and value my friendships with many.
I have given away perhaps thousands of dollars over the years. I often get people asking for money.
There is one lady who comes to me and says she wants to see me "in private". She bats her eyelids, puts on those puppy dog eyes, and tells me she has been raped again, or that somebody stole her purse and could she have "x" number of dollars until she gets her benefit? My wife does not like me "seeing her in private" she quite rightly says it puts me in danger of all sorts of accusations. I have sometimes given her food, but never money. She protests that she needs to buy "meat, or fresh bread or milk and needs money". I know that she flats with a number of men who use drugs, and I'm pretty sure she also uses. This week I did not give her money, she looked at me sadly and wandered off.
I was phoned up by a man who did not even introduce himself, he assumed I would recognise his voice.  He needed furniture moved and "you have a van Dave, you could move it for me!" "No I don't have a van now." "Yes you do... it won't take you long!" "No I don't have a van." "Oh... you will know somebody with a van... could you get somebody to help out?" I did not know somebody with a van who was generous (or silly) enough to do it, so I said, "No I don't.... sorry can't help you!" He tried once more to convince me to assist him, but I finally convinced him I would not help and he hung up. Good grief, if you want somebody to help you at least have the courtesy to introduce yourself! I think he was a Christmas dinner regular. Should I have helped? Am I mean? I have helped lots of people move over the years.
Another man at the drop-in centre I got playing table tennis with. He did not ask for money. As we shared a cup of tea and conversation after the games he told me about his situation. He told how he would be bludging off friends for a week before his boss paid him. He seemed genuine and was not asking. I knew I had $20 left of some money given for benevolence so I went to the office put it in an envelope and handed it to him. He protested, but was pleased to be able to go buy some baked beans. Was he cunningly telling me his story so that I would feel sorry and give him money? I don't think so.
On Saturday late afternoon a man rang me with a long tale of woe. Would I give him some money for food. I listened to his story and thought "he's telling lies!" I had nothing but my well honed BS detector to go on so I truthfully told him that my benevolent fund and the food cupboard at the church was empty so I could not help him. I pointed him toward the Night Shelter which he did not want. There he could have food and lodgings free. This made me certain he wanted money, but not for food. Unknown to me he turned up before Church this morning asking for me. My wife dealt with him and she too did not give him money. She said he seemed scary and desperate (drug addiction). I had a phone call from a church minister along the road from me about 25 minutes before church started. He had gone along there and was trying them out.
My wife received her first pension this week. There was a need at the Night Shelter and she decided she would rather pay for it than have me trying to fix it myself... so her first pension was posted off to the treasurer.
All these have happened in the last week. I have developed a certain hardness over the years. I think sometimes people make silly choices and it does not hurt them to go hungry. Bailing them out all the time can just support their lifestyle. I have also developed a well honed bullshit detector. I have sometimes said bluntly, "No I am not giving you money, I don't believe your story!" When they have protested I have said, "Don't waste your time trying to convince me. Try it on some other mug." I have been threatened with "the Mongrel Mob"... "I know where you live". But I think over all I am generous with my time and money toward people in need, but I am not stupid. It is a hard balance. In the 1970s when I began ministry, there was perhaps the occasional itinerant who would try it on. Now it is a constant demand, even when word gets around that you are not the softest touch in town. People at the drop-in know I am there to support them, but they also know they cannot easily rip me off.  I do appreciate honesty and real need and am often generous when I know I am not being lied to. I am experienced with these sorts of people but I know other ministers who frequently give money when they should not. If you are a praying person, pray for us ministers having to decide such things.
This week I will spend hours holding a bucket outside supermarkets and such places, looking hopefully at people's faces wanting them to donate money to the Night Shelter. I hope they are generous!

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Thoughts while flushing the toilet.

The new toilet cistern during renovations
I changed the toilet cistern on our toilet when we were doing up our bathroom. I changed it to one of those which sits on the back of the toilet. It is nice, cute, doesn't take up much room and looks compact. (I guess "cute" is not a word to describe a dunny!)
As I fitted it I recalled the Night Tech Plumbing Class on installing toilet cisterns. One of the essential plumbing principles for installing toilet systems went like this... "The distance between the cistern and the bowl shall be as long as practicably possible to enable a forceful flow of water into the bowl with each flush. This helps ensure complete removal of soiled paper and waste matter from the bowl." So built into our plumbing "DNA" was the fact that good plumbing practice allowed for a decent drop for the flushing water to fall before it hit the bowl, so that it hits the bowl with some force, cleaning the bowl and aiding the hasty removal of the poo and/or pee. As I installed this squat, cute looking cistern I commented to my wife that this goes against my plumbing principles! It felt like I was breaking the moral code of a good plumber! In the name of modernity, and making my bathroom look contemporary, I did it, against my better judgement.
The plumbing principles were right! Mostly it works OK. But more often than it should it does not do the job as well as it ought. (I will spare you the details.) Quite simply it breaks this plumbing principle. You cannot flout plumbing lore and get away with it!
I think that is true in life. There are basic principles of life, that run deeper than just cultural norms, and if in your lifestyle you flout them, you will pay for it. These principles are not so much some arbitrary moral laws, but more like values and priorities we sometimes neglect in our lifestyle. When we ignore them life becomes more difficult and less than it could otherwise be.
Writer Stephen Covey died recently. He wrote the book "The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People." and other books. In a personal note at the end of the book he says this...
"As I conclude this book, I would like to share my own personal conviction concerning what I believe to be the source of correct principles. I believe that correct principles are natural laws, and that God, the Creator and Father of us all, is the source of them, and also the source of our conscience. I believe that to the degree people live by this inspired conscience, they will grow to fulfill their natures; to the degree that they do not, they will not rise above the animal plane."
My religious terminology might be different, but essentially I agree. President Obama when he was a senator said,
"I'm rooted in the Christian Tradition. I believe that there are many paths to the same place, and that is a belief that there is a higher power, a belief that we are connected as a people, that there are values that transcend race or culture, that move us forward, and that there's an obligation for all of us individually as well as collectively to take responsibility to make those values lived."
I like that too.
Even toilets teach me about the sacred!
To lift the tone of the photography in this post, I add a friends photo taken during our Sunday walk.