Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, September 24, 2012

New Zealand a great place... but...

Battered Christchurch Cathedral
Nosing around the Christchurch shopping centre made out of containers.

Old School building at Stavely on the Canterbury Plains

The dreaded second hand store at Mayfield. A museum in itself.

On top of Mount John with Lake Tekapo in the background.

The view of Lake Tekapo and mountains from our motel door.

Aussie friend, Lake Pukaki and Mt Cook (Aoraki)
We have picked up a couple of visitors from Australia and have taken a whistle stop tour through the centre of the South Island of New Zealand. As you drive you are looking at the scenery wondering how your overseas visitor is seeing things. We nosed around Christchurch until we were tired of the bumpy earthquake damaged roads. We turned toward Darfield and drove down the centre of the Canterbury Plains with the snow capped Southern Alps on our right, and beautiful farm land on our left. We stopped a a little shop in Stavely, where the hosts were so helpful. A big secondhand shop in Mayfield threatened the bank balance. We arrived in beautiful Tekapo. Sunday was spent lazing around this beautiful mountain encased lake area and soaking in the hot pools. We stopped at Lake Pukaki to view Aoraki (Mt Cook) NZ's highest mountain. (Many people have never seen it without cloud... our view was simply amazing.) In Twizel we looked for local "Lord of the Rings" memorabilia and traveled on to Wanaka for lunch. We finished the day having dinner with my two brothers and wives at Clyde in Central Otago. We have a tremendously beautiful country! If you are from overseas, feel free to visit. We also discovered lovely people. We are traveling with a young woman with disabilities. We have needed special things and people have generally been helpful, chatty and friendly.
The prices in touristy places are above and beyond! In Tekapo our friend bought some postcards and simple little things to send to grandchildren. The total for a little bag of bits and pieces was $71! Prices for food in touristy places were also designed to rip tourists off. As hosts showing friends around we found this disappointing. Also there have been places where facilities service have not been as good as they could be. At lake Pukaki Mt Cook look out visitors centre the toilets were filthy, blocked and "Yuck!" I seem to remember they were like that last time we visited.
Last night I had internet access and work emails encroached. Tomorrow we arrive back in Dunedin and will have to hit the decks running to get things done. It has been a nice break and great to catch up on long time friends from Australia.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Christchurch break...

We have driven through to christchurch to pick up our friend Curly Corlett and her daughter, Becky from Australia. We wandered around a very sad looking inner city area of Christchurch.  While sitting at the cafe I was sure I felt an earthquake. The women said it was only me shaking my leg impatiently. But Geo Net and the news said there was indeed a jolt at that time of the day.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Generosity again...

I often grump but this week I should have no reason to grump. People have been generous.
  • I had a substantial gift given to the Night Shelter that I mentioned in my last post.
  • I have had another considerable gift given to the Church funds in memory of my friend Ian Corlett.
  • There is a new food share organisation in town who called by on Tuesday. They take left over food from various firms and distribute it to worthy causes. The lady opened up the back of her vehicle and we were allowed to help ourselves to sausages, savaloys and meat for use at our drop-in centre. When we hesitated she said, "Its obvious you are not used to being given much! .... take more! You use it well."
That is a total of $8000 given to Church and Night Shelter and a big heap of food. I cannot growl this week. AND I have time off!

Monday, September 17, 2012

More thinking.. and events...

We are one...
Today was my day off. I did receive a couple of phone calls, and I went into the Church to do a couple of jobs from the computer there and to re-install a light fitting I had brought home to repair. (You did not know this plumber/minister also did electrical work did you? - don't tell the building inspectors!) I spent most of the day doing stuff around home, repairing some furniture etc. I enjoyed that, but I also find that I continue to think and cogitate on things. I was thinking about the words of the Dalai Lama that I quoted in my last post, and the general directions of that post. The Irish lady, Maureen who went back to Ireland to be with her family once sang a song at our Christmas Day dinner, and again when I interviewed her in Church. Here are the words to that song; (I have quoted it before on my blog site)

By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one 
The air that is my breath is the air that you are breathing
And the air that is your breath is the air that I am breathing
The wind rising in my breast is the wind from the east, from the west
From the north, from the south, breathing in, breathing out 
By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one 
The water that is my blood, my sweat, tears from crying
Is the water that is your blood, your sweat, tears from crying
And the rising of the tide is in our veins and in the ocean wide
We are in the rising steam, rushing river, running stream
By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one
 The earth is dust, the earth is clay, flow’rs blossoming and fading
We are dust and we are clay, we are blossoming and fading
Every color, every sound, every place is holy ground
Oh, every living thing, can you hear it laugh? Can you hear it sing?
By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one
The fire in my heart, my soul flame burning
Is the fire in your heart, your soul flame burning
We are Spirit burning bright, by the light of day, in the dark of night
We are shining like the sun, and like the moon, like the Holy One
By breath, by blood, by body, by spirit, we are all one
The song is composed and sung by Sara Thomsen. I tend to think that a Spirituality and ethical base for life can come from a deep recognition that we are joined together, essentially one with each other and one with the universe. I think this is implicit in the Biblical creation myths, the emphases of Jesus, and even in the life of the New Testament Church. (e.g. The dream Paul sets forth in Ephesians is the whole of creation in harmony under God.) But beyond specific religions, I think this is a base truth to be discovered, experienced and lived. There are further implications tumbling into my mind but they need to evolve some more.
Disharmony..and involvement? Yesterday afternoon my friend and I went for our traditional Sunday afternoon walk. We had just finished and were saying our farewells when all hell broke loose down the road on the other side of the road. Up against a car two couples were screaming at one another. All the "F" words, the choicest gutter insults and real rage. We moved closer to make sure they knew we were aware and close at hand so that it did not escalate into violence. Other people began to ring the police. It was so loud that quite a bit further down the street a householder screamed abuse out her window at them. As things calmed down a man from one of the couples came over and explained that the other couple had stolen their kid's soccer ball and had turned their dog onto them. They had got their ball back, and I weakly suggested he walk away. I was shocked to see that this couple's children had watched the whole thing... mum and dad screaming obscenities at two other adults who were screaming back at them. It wasn't really an adult way to get your ball back, and gave a sad atmosphere to what was quite an idilic park area, with families playing and walking in the afternoon sun.  I must admit to feeling uneasy for sometime after wondering what more I could have done. It is often an issue. How much do you interfere? Do you stick your head up to be knocked off, or do you stay clear, and pretend it doesn't exist or it is not your problem? I read the paper recently and a regular columnist commented on marriage, old and modern, and gay marriage. As I read it I found it to be arrogant and insulting. I struggled with that. Will I write a letter to the editor siding with the gay perspective? Will I speak out? I may face rejection in my job? I may lose friends? It will be for me a public "coming out", risky... it would be easier not to? Well I felt compelled to write so I blasted off an email to the editor. They have not published it. I do not know if I feel relieved or disappointed... both I guess. What battles do you choose to buy into?
I can't force you to be right...
With a twinkle in his eye my son put the photo and slogan above on Facebook. I had to chuckle. We perhaps don't say it out loud, but I admit I sometimes think similar thoughts. "Its OK if you disagree with me, I can't force you to be right" 
In the hurly burly of conversation after Church a man handed me an envelope saying, "Just an anonymous donation to the Night Shelter". I thanked him and put it in my pocket. He had given $20 or a little more from time to time so I expected something similar. When I later looked in the unsealed envelop I discovered a cheque for a few thousand dollars. I feel a bit overwhelmed and deeply moved by this support. Sometimes people really do surprise you with their goodness. It is so needed and such an encouragement at many levels. That's why I pass on the good news.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

I found God!

A collection of magnets, with unseen currents of energy holding them together.
"A layer of reality."
Lately I have written about a sense of connection with fire fighters when I have visited them. Somehow we have talked easily at depth about life, family, health, values and even death. I have said that as I have come away from my chaplaincies I have felt like something sacred has happened. Somehow in the connection there is something very special.
I get this too with a group of people who gather in Space2B on Wednesdays. We chat about life, values and experiences. There is something special going on.
Sometimes also I have mentioned the feeling I get as I watch people in the Drop-in centre enjoying themselves, sharing with each other and relating to us. Something special is happening.
I have a friend who runs sustainability classes in our church building. She also sees it as her responsibility to clean our drop in centre on a regular basis. We talk from time to time and I have immense respect for her. Her father in Ireland is coming toward the end of his life and she left on Friday  to spend time with her mother, father and family for a few months. I saw her in the street on Wednesday, I leapt out of the car and ran along the street to say goodbye.  I yelled out to her, she turned and held her arms out for an embrace, thrilled to see me. We talked, had one final hug and went on our way smiling, both of us glad to be able to say our farewells. Once again there is a deep connection, born out of shared values, a similar sense of purpose, an openness to one another and a sense of sharing the journey of life.
I have a friend who has gone back to live in Hungary. She calls me "Dad". When she was in Dunedin we grew to have a warm "father-daughter" type relationship. Now she is in Hungary we sometimes message each other through skype, and you can even through the distance still sense a warm connection, a yearning to link, people on the journey of life, open to one another.  I could mention other people with whom I have this sense of connection.
I have a theory. That is that somehow God is the connections, or in the connections. I am fascinated by magnets. It intrigues me that you can have these two inert looking lumps of metal, but if you bring them toward each other you can feel an unseen pull. If you put iron filings onto a sheet of paper on top of them you can see magnetic fields, unseen currents of energy. I think that when human beings are open to one another there is a similar current of life and love, and that somehow the one we call God is in that current, or is indeed the current. I am stewing more on this so I will let you know more thoughts as they come. Thoughts and implications are tumbling through my mind and they tie a whole lot of things together, giving perspective and perception.
The Dalai Lama says....
"All the world’s major religions, with their emphasis on love, compassion, patience, tolerance, and forgiveness can and do promote inner values. But the reality of the world today is that grounding ethics in religion is no longer adequate. This is why I am increasingly convinced that the time has come to find a way of thinking about spirituality and ethics beyond religion altogether."
I find a certain affinity with this. For a long time I have tended to call myself a "follower of Jesus" rather than a Christian. Again and again I find a lack of affinity to what mainstream, and fundamentalist Christianity has to say. It no longer rings bells, though I am deeply hooked on the way of Jesus. I stick with Church ministry at the moment because it provides a base from which to express the way of Jesus, but I often find it an inhibiting and limiting base. Again more exploration needs to be done.
Burning books...
I picked up a commentary the other night, and began reading it in bed. I was gathering together thoughts for the next Sunday's service. As I read it I thought, "This is not where I am at!" While at one stage this study would have fitted into my frame of reference, I no longer considered the writer's emphasis to be in line with the way I now see Jesus. I threw the book into the firewood basket, and the next night happily burned it. I have shelves of books I will probably consign to the firewood basket like that. Spiritual growth is a funny thing, I feel more connected inwardly, though these writers would probably say I am a backslider, or "unfaithful".
In a similar way in gatherings of earnest Christians, I find a sense of isolation. Their language does not ring bells. I am a follower of Jesus like them, but somehow where I am is not as institutionalized or not as "religious".  I can no longer be where they are.
That is my burble, half thoughts, and inner journeying for tonight.

Monday, September 10, 2012

You don't notice the years...

The latest photo of my grand daughter. She'll grow up fast enough.
Today has been my day off. We are trying to get a bit of order in the chaos of our house and section. We have an acre of ground, a hectic lifestyle and one day off a week is not much time to keep things in order.
A carton of old stuff from one of my children fell down out in the workshop and I sorted that out. It brought back memories. There was geometry equipment from his tech drawing days at school. There were some fishing fly tying bits and pieces when he tried that for a while. A couple of old toys, some tramping bits and other items that brought back memories of the journey he had been on. We pulled our handicapped foster daughter's bedroom to pieces. Her water bed is being moved tomorrow so we had to siphon the water out of it. Other items were moved from the room. She suffers from severe handicaps and there were a number of things we gathered together over the years in attempts to get her to communicate. Lots of memories, some of them of hard and sad times as dreams we had of change never eventuated. We had to try though, to endeavour to give her the best sort of life she could have. She was home yesterday and we both commented on how intentional and happy she seemed to be.
This afternoon I began to cut the hedges. We have quite a length of big hedge in the front and down the side of our section. I got the electric hedge cutters out and the electric cords. One is wound up on a reel and as I unwound it the reel broke. Disappointment and frustration. I got everything going and completed the front hedge. I then began the bigger side hedge. I hate this job. You get bits of hedge and dust in your eyes. You stretch every part of your body while balancing on a saw stool to reach where you have to reach. Worse was to come. Quite suddenly the cutter would jam and scream when it hit any thick piece of hedge. Something was wrong, it usually cuts anything reliably and well. In frustration I took it into the workshop and pulled it apart. One gear cog was totally stripped, worn out. It would never work properly again. I had to revert to hand hedge shears. As my shoulders began to ache my mind went to an elderly man I knew who only ever used them. He had extensive hedges around his house and they were always trimmed beautifully. They were a work of art. The rain started and saved me from the long tiring task. I complained to my wife about the cutters and the cord reel. "They are not that old?" I complained, "We got them not long after we moved in here." "That was well over twenty years ago," she informed me, "we can't really complain."  Good grief! Where did those years go? The reel was second hand when I bought it. The hedge cutters have done a lot  of work in that time. It is funny how the years fly by and you do not really notice them. After the cold rain started I went into the workshop and patched up the reel. Maybe I'll get another twenty years out of it. I'll be 84 then if I'm still around. It sounds a long way off but time has a way of speeding by.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The week that was...

Birthday greetings
This week it was my birthday. I was to be busy on the day, but the day before the family had planned a morning tea at "The Fix" a coffee bar where my son works. I duly went along and my wife had baked a carrot cake for the ocassion. My son was there with my daughter and son-in-law. The kids gave me a voucher with which I could purchase the latest "Renovator double bladed saw" device to add to my considerable power tool collection. (We did this on Saturday) At Space2B on that day I was sitting chatting and in walked Keith, a reader of my blog. He had purchased a cake and had it suitably inscribed ... "Happy Birthday Pastor Dave." It was a delight to catch up. We sat and chatted and passed the cake around Space2B attenders. On my birthday I attended the Chaplains' retreat and there too I received yet another cake which we shared at supper that night. A radio broadcast service had to be recorded on the afternoon of the day and after that I went back to the office and switched on my computer. To my surprise a woman I have only known on Skype sent me birthday greetings from China and we chatted briefly.  I received greetings on my birthday from a friend at work in Wellington. Later that night a similar Skype acquaintance from the UK also sent greetings. On Saturday night a special friend from Hungary messaged via Skype with a "happy birthday" message and a long chat. Greetings also came from Australia, my son in Edinburgh and of course from Auckland. It is all evidence of a world made smaller by this amazing technology I play with. 
Questioning the retreat sessions???
Late afternoon and in the evening on Wednesday, on Thursday morning and night and on Friday until 2 p.m. I attended the Work Place Support Chaplains' retreat. I found it extremely stressful because in between times I was trying to get things done for Church and Night Shelter. I was up late at nights and early in the morning to try to succeed in this, but I found myself doing things badly because I was attempting to fit in both the retreat and work. We had sessions on "Images of God".  In the process we did exercises like focusing on our image and were invited to "play" with our image. I appreciated the chance to explore my images, but felt like the exercise was narcissistic.  While I appreciated the leader, it was the second time in the week when I had the sense that religious activity and priorities had strayed from Jesus' way. I could not help but think that "Jesus and me" or "God and me" having warm spiritual experiences was not the focus of Jesus. Jesus seemed to be saying, "Obey me, go out and love - and then you will discover that I and the Father will make our home in you." He said "Lose your life and you will find it."  Thats when I experience a partnership with God. The sessions somehow felt like "Spiritual Masturbation" and out of step with the way of Jesus. But I think I was the only one with such thoughts so I kept quiet. I left the retreat and went to a meeting at the Night Shelter. There I saw two men needing helpful accommodation moving into Phoenix Lodge. We discussed more men moving in this week. It is exciting! It could give guys a second chance! It was there that I sensed God smiling! I went eventually to our Drop-in centre and once again sensed the companionship of God, exhausted though I was. That, to me, is the spirituality of Jesus! I recently watched two TV documentaries about the plight of refugees. I see people wasting their lives every day. I feel for the sadness of people who are in a mess in relationships or addictions or with twisted values. In the midst of all this it feels like religious escapism to be sitting around trying to have spiritual experiences! I thought of the short poem... 
I sought my soul,
But my soul I could not see.
I sought my God,
But my God eluded me.
I sought my brother,
And I found all three.

That is my experience of the sacred. But maybe I am a way off track? Horses for courses I guess... whatever floats your boat.
Mountain  Walk
My Sunday running/walking friend and I had held a texting conversation at our normal time for meeting. It was raining, had hailed and the sky looked ominous. We decided to cancel our walk today. But later it came right and I ventured up my mountain. Look how clear it was then! You could hardly believe it was the same day. Dunedin on a sunny day is beautiful.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Tuesday comes to an end...

Blossom on plum trees in our backyard. .. spring has sprung.
Today I visited a prison, or in this PC world a "Correctional Facility". My friend John and I talked to some staff there about "Phoenix Lodge" the transitional accommodation facility we have linked to the Dunedin Night Shelter. It was an interesting experience getting into the prison. We had to go through a very sensitive metal detector thing like out at the airport. We were issued with ID numbers. We were issued with a gismo that if we felt under threat we could push a button and an alarm would go in a control room somewhere, and help would find us. We were very impressed with these staff members who were responsible for the reintegration of prisoners into the community. They challenged us with questions, but they also allowed us to pick their brains.
I also enjoyed the drive out there and time spent with my friend. He shouted me coffee and lunch. It was good have time to just chat. Since getting back to my office the day has been all go. There were emails to answer, some planning to be done for a Radio Church service and emails to send out about that. I had fire stations to visit. I must say I am enjoying my fire service chaplaincy. Every visit lately I feel that I am having real connection. I feel close to so many fire fighters.
I returned to the office to prepare for an evening Church Elders Team meeting beginning at 6 p.m. It was around 9 p.m. by the time I got home. The elders mentioned that they were having a meeting at some stage without my wife and I to begin to plan what they would do when I retire at the end of next year. It will be strange to step down in some ways, I have invested a lot of my life in this ministry, but I do think I will be more than ready to begin a new phase of my life exploring different avenues.
In Dunedin the air is getting warmer, (though it hailed briefly today) and the new life of spring is all around us. For that I am pleased.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Carrying the cost...

I did get to climb my mountain just before dark last night. Love the cloud formations.

Latest pic of our Grand daughter. I texted a Happy Father's day text to my son... His first Father's Day.
"Different" people
The nature of my inner-city ministry involves me relating to a lot of "different" people. They are different in a variety of ways. Many have mental health issues. Some are just different and don't fit into society. Some have different values, different ways of looking at the world or different ways of relating.   I have learned that to relate to these people you have to be very tolerant. You sometimes need to listen to ranting on the same topic over and over again. Sometimes you have to cope with illogical conversations and discussions. Sometimes they can be very paranoid. It saps your energy.
We have a group who come into Space2B and I try to greet them warmly and catch up on their lives. Sometimes when they are mixing with "normal" people who you want to have a good conversation with it can be extremely frustrating. At times they will require help, a "loan" of money, ( e.g. We gave away one hundred dollars worth of vouchers on Friday night.... these had been given to me by various people in appreciation for stuff I had done... funny how the resources you need come.) or assistance to move or other bits and pieces. But at times you can get tired of it all.
On Friday evening at our drop-in centre we have a whole heap of "different" people. One of our goals is to meet them as friends, treat them with respect and love, and be a support to them. I was playing table tennis with one guy who can be frustrating. There were two different people further down the hall prattling at one another. They were winding each other up and it was building in volume and intensity. On a couple of occasions I stepped forward and glared, expressing my disapproval. They paused but when I resumed table tennis continued. It is so annoying this ongoing prattle, and it is not very good in a room full of people, many of whom have mental health issues. They need a happy, "safe" place, not an ongoing inane argument going on in the background. It continued. I glared. In the end I stepped over to them, pointed to one, and firmly, quite loudly said his name, "Fred! - Shut up!" I glared at the second one who was winding Fred up, "You!" I said firmly, "Be quiet and leave him alone!" Then I rather selfishly added, "I have had a guts full!" It was not the most controlled and sane response, but was indicative my weariness perhaps exasperated by my health issues. Immediately there was absolute silence in the whole room. About 40 pairs of eyes were on me, quite shocked at my angry sounding display. I went back and continued playing table tennis. I was chatting with a man later and he said, "You gave me a fright! I've never seen you like that before." It worked though. The pair stopped their prattle and sat ignoring each other, and people resumed their games and conversation. The woman involved came over to me to waffle, it was her way of trying to "make up" and charm me. She is an attractive addict and alcoholic and I had dealt with a situation during the week where she had used and abused a guy. She is a woman in her thirties, was a bit tanked up on booze and earlier in the evening had been trying to get stuff out of us, but had moved on to charming some of the guys into helping her.  Now she was trying to charm me, but I was not buying it. I ignored her prattle, eyeballed her and said, "You! - Next time you see Sally Baker (not her real name but a notorious 50-60 year old town drunk - often smelly, drunk and pitiful) you take a real good look at her!" "Why?" she demanded. "You take a good look at her because that's where you are headed with your life!" She spluttered and looked shocked. "Noooo! Not me!" "Yes you... that's where I see you headed if you don't do something about it!" ... silence ... then "No!" and she shuffled off. I hope she thinks about it some more.
Both yesterday and after church today I had dealings with more "different" people. These were happy peaceful encounters, but none the less requiring tolerance and a willingness to cope with the difference.  As we drove away for a late lunch, having delivered emergency food to one person, I said to my wife, "I've had enough! It is sometimes exhausting." Then in reflective mood I said, "We have to carry some of the burden of these people's difference, don't we? They don't fit easily into our society, we help support, but we experience some of their pain too." I think that's the lifestyle Jesus lived and he calls us to. If enough people do it, each carries less of the burden.
The week ahead
I hope to have a good day off tomorrow, Monday. I need to do some work for the Night Shelter but mostly I can do some work around home.
On Tuesday I get to visit a prison. We are going to talk with rehab staff members about Phoenix Lodge, the transitional "hand up" accommodation we have at the night shelter. It will be interesting. I will do some chaplaincy visits as well.
On Wednesday at morning tea, though it falls between the two, I will celebrate Father's day and my birthday with my family - it is the only opportunity we have in the week.  In the afternoon I join with Workplace Chaplains from Otago-Southland for a three-day retreat. (Because of my current health difficulties I will not be living in.)
On Thursday I take time out from the retreat, to record a radio-church service. I have arranged for the CEO of chaplaincy and the Deputy Chief of the local Fire Service to join me. Our theme is the work of work-place chaplains.
On Friday the retreat finishes. I have to fit in my normal chaplaincies, my normal Church activities and stuff for the night shelter.  It will be a busy week, this week that I turn 64.
I will be 64! When did that happen? Good grief I am old!
Father's Day - today.
I have had texts from two of my boys. I had a phone call from my son in Edinburgh. I had a nice card from my daughter and son-in-law. It read; "We hope you have a great day and know how much we appreciate who you are and what you do!" That helped to make my Father's day.