Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Friday, November 30, 2012

Greedy people!

Tonight we would have had over fifty people through the drop-in centre. We were lucky because we got given a whole lot of food, so there were pies, and savouries, and fish cakes etc. along with the normal filled rolls. We divide the food onto saucers so that people get half a pie, and half a savoury scone and half a croissant etc. and the food is placed on the table tennis table in front of the entry door. I noticed people were doubling up on everything and worried that there may be some who would not receive anything. Tonight there was plenty, but some who arrived 10 minutes late missed out on the first course of food. I watched these greedy people piling up their plates with food, grabbing double helpings almost like hungry growling dogs, with no thought about others who might go without. Our lovely elder said to one particularly repulsive woman with an attitude, "You'll never eat all that?" "Yes I will!" she said as she demanded more of what he was dishing out. I checked later and she did indeed throw some of it out. I found myself getting angry at the selfish greed on display, and the "couldn't care less" attitude toward others' needs. It looked repulsive, not a pretty side of human nature.
 As I played table tennis later I could not help thinking it was a microcosm of what happens in the big wide world. The greedy rich nations madly consume the world's resources at a rate that endangers the environment. Others struggle with few resources while rich nations waste so much. These people in the Drop-in were behaving no worse than the rich nations of the world. And it does look gross.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Mid week sound off!

Still sick!
It is now Wednesday and I am still not fit to be in public! I have improved dramatically but am still coughing and spluttering. I have been tidying my study at home and sucking appropriate medications. I have gone to bed to rest, sermonise and do some thinking... but first a bits and pieces sound off.
No women bishops!
At breakfast I read a report about the Church of England decision not to have women Bishops. I also have a Catholic friend who tells me they have been told to use the older version of the Lord's Prayer in their worship locally.  REALLY?! There are all sorts of issues in the world that demand attention. There are incredible needs throughout the world and even here in New Zealand! In the midst of this world it seems absolutely incongruous that "God's people" are still arguing about women in leadership and wording niceties of worship! GET REAL! When is Churchianity going to die the death it deserves?
My brother in trouble.
My older brother is a Church minister in Melbourne, Australia. He just visited NZ recently and I had coffee with him. On Sunday he was working on top of a ladder at his place, two floors up, and he fell. Now he is in hospital struggling with his injuries, needing lots of surgery and really battling for his life. I have been watching facebook where my niece keeps us up to date. Part of me wishes I could hop a plane and be there. It brings to vivid memory the time in the late 70's when he had a car accident and was expected to die. It is strange, at a time like this many of the things in life we think are so important are revealed to be not so important after all. 
Winding down? Or changing gear?
I have taken the opportunity while being stuck at home with illness to tidy some stuff in my study. Ministers keep stuff. We will keep articles, leaflets, poems and other resources for some future time when we might need them. As I have been sorting stuff I have come across such little gems. Now, however, I realise that most of them I will never use.  I have only a year to go until retirement and I look at the shelves of precious books and other resources in my study and I think, "Most of this I could chuck now!" I am never likely to use it.  Apart from anything else, I have changed and grown beyond the thinking I once thought relevant.
A basis for peace.
TV in NZ is rubbish with very little worth watching. I sometimes take off and watch a TED talk or search a name worth listening to on YouTube. Among other speakers last night I listened to Tom Harpur. He suggested two legs to stand on in the search for World Peace that could be accepted by people of all religions. A Global Ethic;  The Golden Rule - Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. And then to enable us to have the power to follow the Ethic he suggested a global metaphysic: In the heart of each human lies the divine. That is a way of looking at each other which sees the other as the dwelling place of God. Last Sunday I played a video that gave Hindu teaching in Church. I love the basic concept of "Namaste". Fancy that, teaching another religion in Church and I have not got fired? I am exploring further inclusive ethical/spirituality based thinking.
Helpful hint for Catheter bag wearers.
From the sublime to the very practical. Wednesday is the day I change my catheter bag that is strapped to my leg. It has button holes in it through which buttons on the leg straps go to hold the bag in place. When I looked at my first bag I thought these button holes looked flimsy and sure enough in the first day or so one of them split. It is bad enough wearing a bag and all the time wondering if something embarrassing will go wrong. It knocks your confidence when you are out and about to feel that your bag is fragile. Now before I put a new bag on I strengthen the button holes with duck tape. A boring bit of knowledge but so handy if you are unfortunate enough to wear one of these contraptions and want to still be active.  So far the only embarrassing thing for me (apart from going for runs in long pants) happened last Saturday when I was clambering under the Church floor. Somehow the little tap that empties the bag got switched to "open" and as I crawled out I discovered a wet shoe and sock! I was glad there was only two of us around to laugh about it.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Just "be" - Sick thinking.

I have not enjoyed my day off. I am sitting in my bed with a very sore head and a throat that feels like somebody has rubbed rough sandpaper over it. I have spent most of the afternoon in bed. Anyway while I am sick I have been thinking. I have been thinking about people I encounter and our society's way of living and how we make life hard for ourselves. Let me list off scenarios.

  • I see people from the lower strata of society in our drop-in centre. Some are not the brightest people on the block so are unemployed. They try so hard to be "normal". They will buy cell phones they can ill afford with plans they cant afford. They will sometimes have cars they should not buy. They act like "know all's" pontificating on things they know nothing about. Some have mental health problems but they try to mask their problem in various ways. It is other people who make them the way they are. These people are trying desperately to be people who they are not. I want to say to them in love .... "You are OK. Just 'be'" I try to say this by accepting them in love and allowing them to just "be"... sometimes I see them relax and "be".
  • I sometimes see normal people who are driven by appearances, by how they are seen by other people. My mum was a bit like this. We kids had to have clean underwear... if we had an accident "what would the nurses think of your mother?" Sometimes she kept a stiff upper lip when she should have cried. When my dad died, she kept saying, "I must not cry, Angus would not like me to be seen crying." I see people buying cars they cannot afford for appearances sake. If they worked out what they actually ended up paying for the car they have a massive loan for they would be horrified. By the time they have paid for it, it is worth nothing. Then they think they need a more modern one "for appearances". I know people working their bums off because they have bought a house an an acceptable suburb that they really struggle to afford, "for appearances". They are stressed out, under pressure, trying desperately to look acceptable to "whoever". I want to say to them lovingly,  for God's sake "just be"!
  • I see people who have to be doing something and who find their identity in fulfilling a role. They are always in that role. - Ministers who when you ask how they are will tell you about the latest program in their church. Or who finish conversations with little platitudes and sermons. - Social workers and counsellors who will follow the right technique or model, and be so busy watching their technique that they fail to hear or meet the person they are dealing with. - Ministers again, who hide behind rituals and cliches rather than becoming "real". - Doctors who quickly "diagnose" and offer "prescriptions" even when they are talking to their wife or kids or friends. People who are so keen on looking "together" and "happy" and "composed" that they don't know who they are. I often want to say, "Look for the love of God, just 'be'".
  • There are people who run, lift weights and exercise for the good of their health. That is good.  But there are people who do such things because they are driven to be people who do such things. The thought that they might slow down as they age horrifies them. They do it for appearances, and sometimes even their health suffers because they are trying so hard to look healthy. 
  • I am planning on retiring at the end of next year. People tell me, "You can't retire! You are so young and do so well!" "You can't retire. What will you do?"  Another man told me that it took him about two years after he retired to adjust to not doing his job and fulfilling a role. Another lady looked around Space2B "How will you give up all this, and what you do? Why? What will you do?" I WILL retire and I will just "be". (I still have dreams of doing things, but they will not define me.)
  • Today I am sick and added to my sore head, sore throat, wheezy chest and lack of energy is the feeling of uselessness. Who am I if I am not doing something? It is my day off and fine weather, I should be cutting the hedges, doing the garden or "something". No it is time to just "be".
Just "being".
Just being is being happy with who you are at the present time. It is recognising and accepting that you have weaknesses, that you make mistakes but that you are you. Just being is recognising that you know some things but not all things and that is OK. Just being is recognising that you may not be as well off as others, but that does not reflect on your success as a person. Just being recognises that you don't have to be driven by other people's expectations, but that you can make the decisions for your priorities and living.  Just being recognises that more than your skills, your techniques, your knowledge you have something in who you are as a person that the world needs and wants to see and experience. People need to see the precious person that is "you" not just the outer casing. Just being allows others to take off their outer casing and share their precious person with you too. Just being does not mean that you do nothing or that you do not want to improve who you are. You still have dreams you want to fulfill, but they stem from who you are and are an expression of who you are. They are an expression of your inner-being, you have discovered your core and are finding ways to express it. The ideas and dreams and activity, whether it be your job, hobby or role does not give you your identity. Your doing is not your identity, rather it is an expression of your inner being.  If you can't "do" your identity is not lost, though the expression of it might find different forms. Just being is being a minister, social worker, manager or doctor, but first and foremost being "you".
Anyway... rambling now... Tillich in his theology says "Faith is the courage to be." I think there is a deep truth in that which would make life easier.  Living deeply aware of the love at the centre of the universe frees us to "just be".  Another writer says, "There is nothing you can do that will make God love you more. There is nothing you can do that will make God love you less." When we experience such love in our homes, our partnerships and friendships we are freed to "just be".

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sunday sound off.

Quoted in the paper
I got quoted in the local newspaper yesterday. This reporter has been working on this article for some time. He has done his homework and I quite like what he has come up with. It raises the question of the circumstances of people with mental health problems in our community and how some often end up in prison. It is a big issue and not easy to deal with.  While governments are reluctant to throw money at it, I would suggest the consequences of not dealing with it positively means that it cost the community huge amounts of money in other, more negative ways.
1937 TV

1937 Austin

1937 washing machine
Organ music
At Church we use a 1937 Hammond Organ. Now I confess I am one of 95% of New Zealanders who do not like organ music. (according to a survey done about 20 years ago.) I wish we had different music on offer at Church.  I remember years ago one of my then leaders threatening to leave the Church if we ever got rid of organ music. I tend to think the medium is the message. If we sing old songs played on an old musical instrument we are sending a signal that "Church" is a quaint old past time relevant for a different generation. We consign our religion to be a museum peice. I wonder if those who love the organ so much would still drive a 1937 car, use a 1937 washing machine or watch a 1937 Television? Anyway - just saying.... I just think it sends the wrong messages.

A bit sick
For quite a few days now I have been struggling with some flu type symptoms. They have never got bad enough to stop work, just an annoying wheezy chest and rough throat. Today I have really struggled and leading the service this morning was tough going. (Perhaps that's why the organ music got to me this morning?) I think I did some things yesterday which made it worse. Where as I should have taken Saturday easily I had promised to do some carpentry under the Church floor. We have a lot of damage done by the borer beetle in the timber work of our old church. When we moved a piano a few months ago one wheel of the piano trolly broke through the rotten floor boards, with only the carpet holding things together. I had promised to get under and repair the floor boards from underneath and I had told one elder that I would do it this Saturday. So, even though I was not feeling too well, with his help from the sidelines I scrambled under the floor. Creeping on my tummy through the dirt and dust under the building, I then lay on my back with my fancy renovator tool and cut out the offending boards, replacing them from below with new boards. In the process of cutting, chiseling, hammering and nailing I was taking in an incredible amount of dust and dirt. Ever since then my flu symptoms have got worse. I think the physical effort coupled with the dust and dirt was the final straw as my body was trying to fight the virus. Of course we had to attend a function at the Church last night as well. I will come right, but "a bit fragile" is how I would describe myself tonight. What was to be a run with my friend this afternoon became a short often breathless walk.  She took one look at me when we met and said I looked "awful".  I will enjoy my day off tomorrow.
Better than a Bible Study group
I was sitting having coffee at the fire station the other day and one of the firefighters raised the question of life after death, he had heard a book on the subject being advertised. Four guys were sitting around me and we talked "real" stuff about life, values and death. I felt like pinching myself. It was a privilege to be a part of and to help facilitate. I recalled a church-going fire fighter telling me when I first started at the fire station that I would never get to talk religion around a fire station. He inferred it was a waste of time me being there. It was not so much "religion" but better than that - "spirituality".  - Special. I had a week in which there were a number of these special type conversations where your inner-beings meet in friendship.  I am indeed fortunate.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

A little bit low tonight.

I am not sure what is going on with my health but I feel not on top of things tonight. I have a strange wheezy cough which is just not "me", a bit of a swollen face and ankles and little energy. Tomorrow will be better, a bit of depression has hit me today.
What keeps you awake at night?
We have begun to fundraise for the $600,000 we want to enable the Night Shelter Trust to buy the buildings we rent. I was involved in a conversation this morning which was quite a positive experience. It did scare me though, because it made me realise that we have such a long way to go to get that sort of dosh. I am not the fundraising type yet I am chairperson of the Night Shelter Trust needing to raise this amount? We are embarking on a journey. This man we were talking with was quite delightful. He was wanting to help us but was also quizzing us. I loved his question. He asked, "What is your weakness?" then followed that with a question to help us discover that. "What keeps you awake at night? What about the Night Shelter do you find yourself worrying about at night?"  What a great question to help you analyse what is going on in your life? 
In two different conversations today I talked about unemployed people. One man, with two University degrees, has been looking for a job for about four years. He has a lowly paid part time job not in the area of his learning and does quite a bit of voluntary work. He had kept a page out of the paper with a job advertisement on it, and he was going to apply, but was not hopeful. He told of another trained person who had similarly been applying for years who had collected hundreds of rejection letters and not even got to interview stage. He found the government ministers going on about there being plenty of jobs to be insulting. Another conversation, however, seemed to suggest that there were plenty of jobs but that people preferred the unemployment benefit to having to work. I got to stewing on that. I recall at least 26 years ago when I was unemployed for a time. I received the unemployment benefit, which wasn't a lot to live on for the family. I ended up getting a job for a well known hardware store as a salesman. I worked 6 days and one evening a week. I received in my hand ten dollars more than I was receiving on the unemployment benefit! Going to work involved extra expense. There was about $40 travel costs each week to get there. I had to provide myself with a reasonable standard of clothing. I worked all these hours and ended up at least $30 worse off than on the benefit! I chose to keep working, but from a purely economical point of view it was silly to do so. A few years ago I was sick of ministry (a regular event) and I applied for and was offered a job back at the same hardware chain.  They were paying the minimum wage. I still had a small mortgage then and that was one factor in turning down the job. I did my sums and a couple, or a small family would struggle to live on that wage! I could imagine that staying on the unemployment benefit and having time to do money saving things (collecting firewood, gardening, etc) would be a better option if you could. Something is wrong here? Then on the other hand you get CEO's and managers on massive salaries and with all sorts of additional perks. It seems unfair.
What does keep me awake at night?
I have had two other people today suggesting that I should stay with the Church and not retire. Nah... that is what keeps me awake at night! - the distance between the ideal Church truly following the way of Jesus, (as I see it) and the reality of the Church as it is, and my inability to bring the two closer together.    I've gone about as far as I can go. 

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

I watched a film!

Today I have worked about ten hours with little sleep last night. I did some things that were on my plan to do, and there were some extra unplanned things I needed to respond to. Other things mucked up my plans for the week ahead. Tonight I switched off. My wife had wanted us to go to the films but one of the unplanned responses meant I was working past the start time for the movie to begin, so I suggested hiring a DVD might have to do. I share with you a couple of things.
First-  I have been fielding phone calls about our Christmas dinner, had face to face meetings about it and also listened to comments about the Night Shelter and our other programs at the Church. I have had offers of volunteers wanting to be part of Christmas day. A minister rang wondering how his Church could assist. I have been encouraged by the good name our Church and our work has in the community. While there are many frustrations, we are making an impact.
Secondly - I share two classic lines from the film... It was "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" and I enjoyed it. The two quotes are...
"Life is like a wave,
resist it and you'll get knocked over.
Dive into it and you'll swim out the other side."
"The only real failure is the failure to try.
The measure of success is how we cope with disappointment."
They rang bells with me, though I am not sure how they apply to my life. I am a bit weary of trying! I keep diving in though sometimes even when you dive in the wave turns you over a few times before you emerge. Another quote from the film...
"It will all be alright in the end. If it is not alright, it is not the end yet." 

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Stressed on my day off?

I have felt a bit stressed today. We have had a lot of rain lately but today was fine and my day off, so I should have been feeling relaxed. Here are the reasons why I feel stressed.

  1. Dunedin Night Shelter Trust. There are three things going on that have me stewing in my position of Chair of the Night Shelter Trust. First - We are trying to get Phoenix Lodge up and running as a place for transitional rented accommodation for men, particularly ex-prisoners. That has had a lot of teething problems and it seems the nature of the people we work with that there will always be issues. Today I had a Newspaper reporter trying to get information out of me, and I have been worried about what will be printed out of what I have said. Secondly - we have our Annual General meeting for the Trust coming up on December 6th. I have to make sure it is advertised, that I have a report printed by then and I have the program for the evening all sorted out. There is a lot of work to do in the next week or so. Thirdly - We as a Trust have decided to fundraise for $600000 to purchase the buildings we currently rent. We are starting the fundraising now. We are planning a special presentation on the 11th December for which I need to arrange a video, work out who should come, contact the people we want to involve and facilitate the committee getting all this off the ground. Again a lot of work needs to be done in the next couple of weeks, much of it is out of my comfort zone, and will be new learning for me. I keep telling myself that I was an important part of a Habitat for Humanity group which went from nothing to financing and building 13 houses, so I should be able to handle this. I guess it is just the unknown ahead of me that stresses me out.
  2. Our 24th Community Christmas Day dinner. The phone is ringing more and more frequently with people booking in for our Christmas Day dinner and caring agencies are ringing seeking information. Even today on my day off, I have fielded a number of calls. I know we will get it all done, but the next five weeks will be busy with extra work getting this all funded, planned and presented. So as well as the extra Night Shelter responsibilities, I have the normal busyness that has happened for the last 23 years each November/December. It will happen, people's generosity make it happen, I just have to organise and channel all that energy.
  3. Behind in my normal work... I am deeply aware that I am behind in some of my normal work. There are people in my congregation long overdue for a pastoral visit. There are similar people in my chaplaincies. There are administration issues I am behind in for both Church and chaplaincy. These weigh heavily on my mind. I think some times others think I am available at any time for meetings, conversations and other extra-curricular stuff. It is good that I can be a bit flexible, but I am employed by Church and chaplaincy to fulfill certain responsibilities and I need to catch up on some of this work.
  4. I have my enlarged prostate "bionic plumbing" problems. I am coping with having to wear this catheter and bag set up which requires time and extra thought to just do the normal things. It also occasionally brings with it times of discomfort.  I am doing OK and try to just get on with life as per normal as much as possible, but I know I have this annoying bit of equipment and the uncertain cloud of surgery and further diagnosis at some stage hanging over me. 
  5. Two sad events in Dunedin There have been two sad events in Dunedin. One was a cyclist hit and killed by a truck in town. I know the emergency workers who would have attended this accident and I am a cyclist who has had a few close shaves with trucks, so this has made me sad. The second was a woman attacked and given stab wounds by some unknown man in her house. Did I know this man? Given the people I mix with, perhaps he is one of "our" drop-in guys? I somehow feel a measure of responsibility. It was just blocks away from the Church. Was there anything we could have done to prevent this? These two events have made my heart feel "heavy" today.
I tried to repair an electric fly mower that we have. I pulled it apart, cleaned and adjusted it but there were still problems. It was disappointing not to get it going. While I have been doing such "day off" things the above four issues have been hanging around my mind not allowing me to relax. Phone calls have kept them alive.  I did enjoy my walk up my Mount Cargill to do some thinking on the week ahead.  There is nothing like physical exertion, expansive scenery and bush to bring a measure of renewal to the inner man. Tomorrow another working week starts for me. Wish me luck. 

Why fighting?

Rug of many shades, representing a group of many shades.
The Bad News
Israel and Palestine...
I heard a Palestinian talking once about the situation for people in the Gaza strip. It was very concerning. They were denied basic rights and necessities like water and access to health care etc. etc. The whole history of that area is fraught with hatred and human hunger for power, made more complicated by historical decisions made by larger powers. Over the last few days there has been ghastly scenes of renewed fighting. Men, women and children have been killed. Why? It is so sad that children grow up in the midst of fighting and learn hatred. It is not the way life is meant to be.
I have just watched a documentary on the Syrian people's struggle for freedom. An ill equipped rag tag looking rebel army willing to fight to the death against the president's regime. A president who using all his military power attempts to quash the rebellion by hitting out at civilians, sometimes in cruel ways.  Incredible suffering and death. It is extremely sad. Why?
Lost jobs...workplace deaths.
The Hillside railway workshops are being closed in Dunedin with the subsequent loss of many jobs. It has been a proud place of engineering skill for many, many decades. It once had its own brass band. It had its own St John Ambulance unit. Now it will be empty buildings and railway carriages will be made in China at a fairly slim and debatable financial advantage. We know a family whose life will be impacted by this. "What about the mortgage on the house?" the wife said to me. A report came out about the Pike River coal mine disaster that happened exactly two years ago. The report claimed the company had placed "profit above the safety of people". I get the feeling that while most workplaces do not end up with the sort of tragic deaths that Pike River experienced, there are plenty of examples of "profit over people" thinking. I see overworked and stressed people taking on the extra responsibilities of those who have lost their jobs in the name of efficiency. 
Good News
Cross cultural celebration!
On Friday mornings at our Church a women's group meets made up of a great variety of cultures. It is called "Women Across Cultures". They were looking for a space, we knew a number of them so we offered them a room in our Church building and have supported them as they have evolved. Last Saturday night they held a celebration of one year of meeting. I wish I had photos of the event, it was so good. Over 100 people attended and enjoyed a variety of foods from all sorts of countries. As well as that we had items from various cultures. Dancing from India and South America. Martial arts from Japan. Songs were sung from Sri Lanka, poems from Africa and Scotland, art work from a Korean lady and so it went on. Before the meal we had a grace that various religions could identify with. It was so great seeing this mixture of people enjoying this special event. I saw at the back of the room an Iraqi man sitting in friendly conversation with a man from Iran! There were countless hugs and groups of people in warm conversation all around the room. Christians, Muslims, Hindus and people of no religious affiliation all enjoying time in our Chapel. (Space2B) I looked and thought, "This is of God! Why isn't the world like this?" The ladies gave my wife and I a crochet rug which they had made. There were squares of various shades representing the variety of cultures in the group. Amidst the bad news above there are shining examples of an alternative way of seeing things. I hope it catches on, we need more harmony in the world. 

Some ideas for an extension of this sort of harmony are bubbling away. Watch this space.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

More on no hopers...

My son's old dog Flint. Nice dog, but hurt for life by ill treatment.

The strange looking photo of an old photo above is of my son, a lot younger, with his dog Flint. (Gone long ago) We got Flint from the SPCA at about 4 months of age, but he was already fearful. I think he had been badly treated and he cowed away from you rolling his eyes in fear when you came near too quickly. He was loved by my son and our family and improved over time, but he never ever lost it. He was fine with our family. In fact our handicapped girl could hit him, fall on him, get tangled in his chain and he never got stroppy. But when visiting children rushed up to him he would often give a warning growl or even an snap of his teeth. I suspect as a young dog he had been mistreated by young boys. Whenever some of my sons' friends came around I would make sure he was tied up and warn them to stay away. But thinking he looked friendly enough they would rush up and get a fright. He was responding to them from his early experiences of ill treatment.
I had a counsellor/social worker tell me that when we are growing up if we don't get appropriate expressions of love at certain stages in our development a certain part of the brain does not develop properly and we are marred emotionally for life. A specialist in mental health disease told me that sometimes people get trapped at the emotional age they were at when their mental health troubles started. 
Many of the "No hopers" (people with no hope in their life) are just like old Flint was. Ok, but scarred for life and responding to the world around them from that time of injury. They are truly wired differently.  Through no fault of their own. 
This morning I went to assist with an alcoholic mother and her 18 year old son, both hung over and still drunk asleep on a dirty old mattress stashed on the mud under Phoenix Lodge at the back of the Night Shelter. So so very sad!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

"No hopers..."

First...I'm OK!
It is funny when people know that you have "bionic plumbing" (Catheter and bag) they sometimes begin to treat you like an invalid. I have people who will not let me lift a table or seat around the Church, where as before they couldn't care how much I lifted. "Don't you go lifting anything!" they say. I had promised to help a lady move her furniture from one flat to another. Today the local Salvation Army man rang up and said we were moving her piano tonight. I went along. The Salvation Army man was at least 10-15 years younger than I and he had two strapping teenage sons to help. There was a horribly steep path with various flights of steps to get this very heavy piano up. I participated fully. I reckon I was as good as anyone lifting my end of the piano. I may be a little dysfunctional but I am certainly not an invalid. Actually while doing the job I thought of the stereotypical view people have of Church ministers as being wimps, not real "men" and of not much use.  Here we were, a Church of Christ minister and a Salvation Army Officer, both men of the cloth, picking up this heavy piano and walking it up the path! We were willing and able!  Many "worldly" men our age would neither be willing nor able!
Why introduce "No hopers..."
I want to introduce you to some "no hopers". Please understand I am not using this term in a derogatory fashion for the people I am going to talk about. It is a sad description of them.  Awhile back I visited a church group and talked about the Night Shelter. As I talked I realised that these people had no idea of the sort of people who would use a night shelter. I took it for granted that everybody at some stage experienced these people. But they don't, many live relatively sheltered lives. I spend every Friday night with some of them. Secondly I was searched out by a newspaper reporter the other day. He was asking about mental health patients, especially those who end up in prison, and I struggled to communicate their plight.
I am prompted to introduce them because of three factors...

  • Our Government minister Paula Bennett says there are plenty of jobs and the unemployed just have to get off their backsides and look for them. ... Sorry Paula can I suggest you visit our drop-in centre? We average 40+ through and only one or two have any vestige of hope of getting a job. 
  • We had a young man die in our botanical gardens because he was huffing gas. I had met this man and our night shelter had hosted him.  I was talking in a group about this situation and a man said judgmentally, "Well that's one loser less being a drain on society!" I have had people in the same tone of voice say, "Why do these poor people smoke? - losers." "How come they claim poverty and drink?" "Why take drugs? - no hopers - losers - scum." "Why buy expensive cell-phones - why try to run bombs of cars, or drive an unregistered unwarranted car?" Now I am as frustrated as any at the behaviour of these people, I have more contact than most. I do not want to paint them as saintly victims. But before you judge stop and think if you would be different if you were in their shoes. Some, given their circumstances are coping well.
  • I and others from the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust want to raise money to purchase the buildings we currently rent. We are providing emergency shelter in the front building, and transitional accommodation for people in the back building. I think the biggest hurdle we will have is that most of the people we want to donate have not met the people likely to use our facilities. Secondly, if they have heard of them, they do not understand their predicament. 
People of no hope...
  • Imagine... You were born into a dysfunctional family where mum and dad were not relating well, or mum had several partners and stormy relationships. Imagine that you were not born with an average level of intelligence, and you knew that from your hard experience of life. When others understood lessons, and could do things easily, you struggled and felt somehow "less".  You also knew it because your parents told you that again, and again and again. They maybe told you that you were "Dumb" "Stupid" or a "Dipstick." Your teachers told you that, possibly not in the same derogatory terms, but with their impatience, their ignoring you while they enjoyed the bright responsive kids, or their marking system reinforced your inadequacy. Your confidence is non-existent, even though you try to hide it by being bombastic and sometimes loud. You look at training opportunities and know they wont get you a job. You look at job adverts and sense you have no hope up against so many other job applicants. You hate applying because you know you will only experience the "system" saying you are dumb again! You struggle to read or read and write very slowly. Filling out forms simply scares you.
  • Imagine... You are born into a normal family experiencing the normal ups and downs. You do OK at school, somethings you may even excel at.  But you begin to know you are not normal. Imagine hearing voices that you cant explain! Or ... imagine feeling your normally reasonable logical brain slipping into illogical ranting, paranoid ways of thinking or deep dark episodes of depression. Your family has supported you, but you have continued to struggle, you have embarrassed them time and again. You have cost them money time and again. Because of your irregular behaviour you cannot keep a job. You lose it with the boss or a fellow worker or have too many days off. 
These are just a couple of scenarios. We could have a mixture of them. We could think of other sad and difficult situations that people face simply because of the accident of birth. You grow up in a house where there is nobody with a job and no sense of work ethic. etc etc. Now as you struggle with these issues our community becomes this super efficient community where people need to perform. There are fewer and fewer places for purely manual jobs. And if there are, you have to perform or you are out... there is a waiting line of able people needing work. As well as this even the most basic jobs often require some level of computer literacy... "Where is the 'on' switch? What on earth does that instruction mean?" There is really no hope of getting a job! You are stuck on the dole forever! There is little hope of forming a stable relationship, who would want you? You know you can never own a home. You can never take up an expensive hobby. You can never get a decent car. You will always struggle from week to week, year to year as a beneficiary... sometimes blamed for society's woes. What do you do? How do you react? What do you see in life? Just a long black hole till you die.  ... "I enjoy a smoke... It may kill me, but at least its some pleasure!" "These drugs or drink make me forget the drudgery and hopelessness of my existence. May as well imbibe!" "Those rich bastards have good stuff, if I just take some maybe I can enjoy some good things!" .... What I am trying to communicate is that by accident of birth people end up living lives with no real hope in them. This lack of hope, meaning or significance leads them to doing stupid, life damaging things. Maybe even violent things ... just to get some measure of pleasure or difference. I wonder if I was in their shoes would I act any differently? 
We have built a community where there is no place of dignity for these people. I believe it is the community's responsibility to have a safety net for them. ... so I am involved in the Night Shelter Trust. If our society spits them out the back we have a responsibility to provide for them. I also think we need to be trying to think of ways in which these people can meaningfully engage in the community. They end up on a downward spiral, which costs and hurts them, and costs and hurts society. It is not enough just to provide for them, they need somehow to also find "significance" and purpose. ... Perhaps, for the sake of people, we may need to be less efficient?  Anyway these are our "No hopers!" ... with no hope! What a terrible place to be? That is why I do stuff to try to make their existence better. I try to love them in practical ways..... though at times they drive me bananas!

Saturday, November 10, 2012

"You can't retire!" & I can still dream.

A cute old caravan we have purchased so that we can explore this lovely country when we retire.
We have a year to tidy it up.
"You won't retire!"   I have told my congregation's leaders and others that I am retiring at the end of 2013. (With my health difficulties I have been tempted to finish earlier.) I was, however, surprised when at a function last night the local MP said, "I heard you've had some bad health lately?" and followed it by, "And I heard that you are going to retire soon?" Now unless he reads my blog (which I doubt he would have time or interest to do) how did he know? I have met him only a few times? How come he is even interested? ... The thing that gets me though, is that time and again people say "You can't retire!", "You won't retire!", "Why are you retiring?" "I didn't think ministers ever retired!" or "You will be preaching somewhere!" I WILL retire from Church ministry.... I have done enough! I am looking forward to not having to stand up in front of people and bare my soul while they seem to look on indifferently. I am looking forward to not having to word funerals and stew on what to say. I am looking forward to breaking free from the baggage "Church" has with it. I will retire and will stop doing the upfront preachy stuff. "But you are so good at it?" people ooze... meaning something like, "You entertain me." I often want to yell, "I am allowed to retire!" I have other things I want to explore before I "kick the bucket"!
"It is easier to give birth than raise the dead!"  While I value all that the Church has brought into my life I am very much teetering on the edge of the church.  Even if I was not of retiring age, if I was true to myself and true to the people employing me, I no longer fit their expectations for "Church minister" and it would be wrong for me to continue.  I also value many of the lovely christian people I experience in Church. They are following their religion as best they are able. I have stuck with the Church and ministry when many of my contemporaries have moved on.  Tony Campollo has a sentence I identify with.  He says, "The Church is my mother but she is a whore."  I have, however, come to the conclusion that it is impossible to effect the change in the church that is needed. The people and the institution are held back by distorted, muddied concepts of what following Jesus is all about. It is so engrained in their thinking that it is impossible for people to jump the tracks and see different ways of being "Church".  (Many would probably argue that it is I who have the distortion) When people think of change in the Church they immediately ask the wrong questions. "How do we get more bums on pews?" "How do we get more modern worship/music to entertain?" etc. etc.  We slip back into imperialistic notions of the Church.  My own denomination in NZ is setting targets, "20,000 by 2020!"  Even in the secular world people have distorted notions of what Jesus and Church is all about. As far as they perceive it is about getting to heaven when you die. Or it is about not doing bad things and telling others not to do bad things.  Or it is about getting people in the door for our brand of religion! In today's world the restoration needed is much more profound than changing the styles of fulfilling traditional goals.  The very word "Church" has too much negative baggage in people's minds inside and outside the Church. The questions are; "What does it mean to follow Jesus?" "How does a group of people express the way of Jesus today?" "What does a real, relevant Jesus-centred spirituality look like today?"  We live in a multi-culural, pluralistic but very materialistic world. There are deep divisions, lots of suspicions and uncertain fearful people building walls around themselves and their "tribe". There is desperate loss of meaning, disconnection and lots of challenges for the human race. (Global warming - sustainability - economic systems - justice issues - adapting to new technology - lifestyles/ "family" )  Imperialistic "who's in and who's out" religion is more of a problem than a solution! It is not just irrelevant it is damaging! Religion that tries to drag the clock back to old cultural ways of being just tries to stop the relentless tide of change.  A "Christendom" religion that assumes an authority it hasn't earned is no longer life-enhancing.  I believe that most Churches, even those that are numerically "successful" are missing the point. We started Space2B at our Church. We have as a slogan, "Connecting people, celebrating diversity and engaging communities." To a little extent we have been successful.  There are some special times in Drop-in centre, Space2B, chaplaincies and with the community groups we engage with that are profound and deeply sacred. They burst through boundaries. They touch lives. People engage with people. There is something ultimately "right" about them. I see them as the heart of what Jesus would do today. But.... most of my lovely, well meaning Church people don't experience them. They are not part of the traditional way of doing "Church" so they see them as not being their business. They do not connect with their view of Christianity.   I will retire not because I am too old to work, but largely because I sense an inability (at least on my part) to change the church in the way I believe it needs to be changed.
Where will I go?  I was chatting with a Baptist minister on the edge of his denomination. He commented; "To have a resurrection you need a death first." and "It is easier to give birth than to raise the dead."  One of the big issues for me is where will I attend "church" when I retire? My current congregation at least allows me freedom to explore some things even if I find some stuff frustrating. Most other Churches I would find to be extremely irrelevant! Because "Church" for me has too much bad baggage, I am thinking that I need to explore new ways of being JC's helper apart from "the Church".  I am starting to dream. I may have to win Lotto to resource it, but how about a "Space2B" type place where people can come, share thoughts and dream of ways they can serve as Jesus served? - A place that does not necessarily have a "Christian" or "religious" label, but a place where people connect? - A place where people can share questions, link lives and express servanthood?  I keep encountering people who have given up on Church, but not necessarily given up on Jesus, spirituality or serving. Maybe a group of us "malcontents" could get together and do stuff?  I will retire from Church stuff, but I am not finished dreaming. Watch this space.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Goodbye colleague and brother-in-law.

Today we received news that my wife's brother died. Life for him had been fairly restricted and increasingly difficult over the last year. He was a couple of months off being eighty one. He had been a Church of Christ minister with two stints as a hospital chaplain. He was a very clever man with his hands. Among other things, he was an artist who loved to paint, could build all sorts of things including furniture, enjoyed photography and was an expert wood turner. In his ministries he used these artistic skills in a variety of ways. He also loved to go deer hunting and had great stories to tell about hunting trips. I don't think he ever succeeded but one of his ambitions was to get a deer with a bow and arrow. He enjoyed the sport of archery in the later part of his life. All his hobbies he did with an intensity, reading widely and making sure he had the right equipment. I went on a few hunting trips with him and it astounded me how he could pull all this specialised equipment out of his pack. I am not sure how he fitted all these and more into the ministry lifestyle, he was surely more organised than I am. 
In recent times he seemed a bit bitter about his church ministry experiences and the frustrations of the job. I will have to guard against that. As I come toward the end of my career I find myself getting angry and bitter because of disappointments. I have to let this go and move on. The people who caused the frustrations are oblivious, and my anger only disturbs me and ruins my enjoyment of life. It is wasted energy.  Anger can be used as a power for greater efforts, but it is dangerous to just wallow in it.  He spent much of the last year in a rest home. I wonder as he sat there and looked back on his life how he felt about it? Did he recognise the numbers of people he had helped? Did he feel that working for the church was worthwhile?  And how will I feel when I get to that stage of life?
His emphases and style were different than mine.  The times and issues he grew up with were different even though our careers overlapped. He served faithfully as best he saw fit in his time with the gifts and talents he had. Well done good and faithful servant. 

Monday, November 5, 2012

Wet and cold day off.

Today it has been wet and cold. We went up town to my favourite hardware store for coffee and a browse, did some other calls and came home over the hill road. We drove through falling snow! It is November? I have been mucking around inside most of the day. As I ate my evening meal I looked at our white rhododendron bush and thought I should get a photo before the flowers totally disappear. This led to noticing other flowers in the wilderness that is our backyard.
Rhododendron outside our lounge window.

Apple blossom past its best.

Azalea also past its best.

Haven't a clue what they are, but quite cute.

Badly photographed rose.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A busy week of relating.... people important

"Hey Nan and Pop, I can sit." Granddaughter growing up too fast without me.
I have had another busy week, but in the process there have been special relationships. Here are some highlights.
Monday... On Monday we went shopping to buy a gift from the Church to give to a lovely lady who was celebrating her 90th birthday. We selected an appropriate gift and took it around enjoying a lovely warm visit with her and her family.  She was born in Scotland and has lived through so many events and changes in the world. She is still fairly active. In the evening I went for an energetic trip up my mountain. It was a lung bursting walk/jog up to the top and a jog all the way down. It was the fastest time I had done for a long time and it made me feel good, in spite of my "bionic plumbing".
Tuesday... I met with the family of a lady whose funeral I led on Wednesday. It was good to share with them since they are in ministry in Wellington and hold similar positions as I do. In the afternoon I was asked to take a man who is a Trust Board member of the Workplace Support (Chaplaincy) governing body around my fire service chaplaincy so that he could see what a chaplain does. It is interesting to do such an exercise because it makes you look at what you do from another's perspective. I was warmed by the comments by firefighters, with the deputy chief listing off the positive value of what I do.  It was all a bit embarrassing. The ease with which I am able to drop into significant conversations at fire stations is very satisfying.
Wednesday... We had the funeral which was quite large for a lady of 95. (If you want a big funeral you usually should die young.) By all reports the funeral went well. We have this sleazy guy who comes to Church, Drop-in centre and Space2B. He did not know the woman who had died but he and his mate wanted to attend the funeral for the free food. I told him it was inappropriate and actually had to speak to them quite forcefully in the foyer of the Church half an hour before the funeral. 
Thursday.. I visited the brewery only to discover that the Prime Minister was soon to be touring. I came away early, not wanting to get in the way. I was also involved in interviewing a guy for a coordinator's role at Phoenix lodge. I find such decisions so hard to make.
Friday... I spent most of the day in conversation with people. I have a friend who visits for morning tea every Friday. From there I got talking to a guy from the UK who is becoming a regular Friday morning visitor to Space2B. He told about diving on recovery missions to a wrecked 14th Century sailing ship off the coast of Portsmouth in 1970's. An Iraqi man came in. He has had major heart surgery and this was his first outing to town since the operation. He told his wife he had to come visit his friends at the Church (He is a Muslim) It was so good to talk. In Space2B it felt special on Friday. We had a number of people came in to share what had been going on for them. They found support and friendship. It was valuable "people time". At the drop-in centre at night we had over 50 people through. One guy caused problems with his loud angry swearing. I asked him to modify his language and he spat a "f" laden sentence at me. I saw by his glazed eyes that he was on drugs of some sort as we glared at each other. There was a moment when I thought he might take a swing at me but my steady stare convinced him not to. I asked him what he was on and he shoved a sausage in his mouth and said, "I'm eating a sausage now!" He did quieten down. I felt sorry for him. Our community spits these people out. There is no work for them, no place of dignity and purpose. They have little hope of improving their lot so they just smoke, drink and abuse drugs too much and get angry. 
Saturday... We went to the Church at 10 a.m. and helped set up and host a ninetieth birthday party for a long time member of our congregation. It was 6 p.m. when we finally left the Church. With my daughter on holiday I had to then do lots of extra duties like the hymn power points and the Church Newsletter.
Today ... The service was on the theme of imaging God as a "Potter". I think it went well. After lunch I sat up in bed with my laptop but immediately fell asleep. I had a walk/run this evening with my friend. It is so good to be incorporating a run again, even though I have to wear long pants and cope with my "plumbing".
It was a busy week with every night taken up with some sort of work. There were other responsibilities and activities I cannot mention.  I would hate to add up the hours of work I did, and even then I failed to complete some tasks. I was meant to be at a chaplains' training meeting on Friday. I completely overlooked it in my busyness. On reflection though I am sure the relationships I had in Space2B were more useful for the "Kingdom of God". 
To sum up my week; I have been excessively busy, but I have felt like I have had a significant role in traveling with people in their journey through life. Though exhausting it has felt kind of "special". This being with each other on the journey really is the guts of life, and I am privileged to be able to do it.
I hope to have a real day off tomorrow. My wife's brother is close to death up country. I will be taking part in his funeral maybe later in the week, for now I hope to relax tomorrow before another busy week begins on Tuesday.