Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, December 29, 2013

Say it now...

Today was my final Sunday service.  I reused an old sermon that I preached for an ecumenical service earlier in the year adapting it suit the coming new year and the uncertainties involved. I felt it was ideal for the occasion. I prepared well but the occasion nearly got to me, I stumbled over many bits. When I got up to lead the service I discovered a number of people had come along especially for the event.  My brother and his wife from two hundred and twenty Kilometeres away. Past members fronted up. My supervisor had come. People from the Christmas dinner. A number of Drop-in centre people. Friends from the past. All these people were sitting there watching me present my final service. I was trying to remain focused, not on being the star of the show, but rather on leading worship. I must admit to getting a little flustered and to not being as fluent as I usually am. I had many, many positive comments about the service. One man who has come into the life of the Church in the last couple of years said, "I have never heard you preach a bad sermon, but this one topped the lot!" Another man I have known since we were teenagers, comes from time to time with his elderly father, he normally attends an Anglican Church. He came to me and repeated the same sort of thing. "I can sincerely say that I have never heard you preach a bad sermon, they have always been top shelf presentations, and today's was up there too."

It was these sorts of comments from members that got to me. People came up with tears in their eyes and thanked me for what I had done. One elderly man just simply hugged me tightly and struggling to control his emotions gasped out, "Enough said." A past elder who had moved out of town and had to move to a new congregation came and told me how I had looked after them so well during his time. Others expressed an amazing level of love, high regard for my ministry and the directions I had taken the church on. One lady said, "You do what other ministers just talk about. They all talk about reaching out to the community, but you have done it!" I appreciated these positive comments, all the more because I think they were sincere.  I got to thinking though, how during those tough times of ministry when I felt all alone, as if I was beating my head against a wall, I would have so loved to have heard just a few of these words of affirmation and support. At times it has been hard going and I could have done with these messages of love and support then. Why wait until I retire? I would still be retiring, it would not make a difference, but it may have lifted my spirits during the tough times.

Why do we do that? I recall the last time I saw a friend alive earlier in the year. I was with him by his hospital bed and I knew he would soon die. As I rose to go I grasped him by the shoulder, looked straight into his weary eyes and told him he had been and was important to me.  Leading his funeral I said some loving, sincere things about him. But why then? Why, oh why did I not have the courage to say when he was alive and well, "I enjoy your company Don!" "I really love your sense of humour and the friendship we have." It would seem sloppy and sentimental, but it could well be that he needed it back then.  Why do we wait until retirement or funerals to express our appreciations? Any way I feel humbled by the very moving expressions of love and appreciation I have received last week and today. It is funny to think I am now a retired minister. It is good, it feels like taking a heavy pack off at the end of a long tramp. But on the other hand, it feels like a boat that has been cut loose from its moorings and is drifting. What will happen next? What adventures await me now?

Thursday, December 26, 2013

People stifled by civilisation and regulation.

NZ based grandchildren open Christmas presents. 
The family gather.
Christmas Day...
We spent most of Christmas Day running our twenty fifth community Christmas Day dinner. You can read the local paper's report on that. It was at one stage VERY stressful. Somehow the people who cook the meat started the process very late so the meat was over three quarters of an hour late. We were lucky in that we had some good singers who entertained the gathered throng. The firemen did a massive job in cutting the meat at super fast speed. They cut in my office and people relayed it up to where we were dishing out the food. When we had cleaned up sufficiently and I had delivered borrowed tables to their owners we finally got home late afternoon to spend some time with the family. It felt like every muscle in my body hurt.
Toitu early settlers museum.
Today with our son and his family we visited the Toitu early settlers museum. We will visit again when we have more time. It was an interesting experience. I was so impressed with the resilience, drive and basic ability to set up home and survive in a new, unforgiving environment. They built houses out of material available. They made vehicles and machinery out of bits and peices. They modified existing vehicles to suit different situations. They invented gadgets. As I looked at the model of a settlers house I thought "You would be shot making that today!" But that got me thinking and asking questions. A poor man today wanting to add a wall to his house would not get passed the permit! The permit to do it would cost him heaps. He would have to employ a registered carpenter to do work he could do and would have to use expensive materials. He may have dreams, initiative and abilities but regulations and bureaucratic bullshit stifle him. The local by-laws keep him down. Again a poor man cannot keep his old car going. Because one or two rust buckets of cars got squashed in accidents with bigger vehicles, old cars have trouble getting warrants of fitness. Any signs of rust and it gets expensive. It annoys me too. My son and I once worked for months on an old car when he was a teenager. It was a great exercise in learning about vehicles, as well as father and son communication. We had to get it OK'd by the Land Transport Act authorities. It had small pock mark blemishes in a few places on the windscreen  and a couple of inconsequential spots of rust.  It would cost more than the car was worth to repair these. (People have hanging dice, rev counters, GPS screens all blocking their windscreen view more than these little weld indentations - it had passed a warrant test at the garage.) They declared also that they would have to strip and check the brake system, which would cost us heaps.  Sadly all our work was wasted... this perfectly good functioning little car had to be scrapped! The Land Transport Authority has representatives with a vested interest in making you buy more expensive vehicles. 
Anyway, I just think in todays world, the spirit of our early settlers, their initiative, their inventiveness and resilience is being squashed by the mad bureaucracy that surrounds us. It may keep us safer, but it kills the "spirit".

Monday, December 23, 2013

Community Christmas Day dinner number 25.

It is hard to believe that I was just 40 years old when we began to organise and participate in Community Christmas Day dinners. This year it is number 25... and most probably our last. We are all ready for the 300 guests and volunteers we are expecting.
I am fortunate in that much of the work I used to do in earlier dinners is now looked after by my daughter or I receive help with it. It is quite a logistical nightmare, but we have not had a dud yet. Last night on our set up night the man delivering the tables did not turn up so we had to go and get them. That was the biggest mistake in 25 years. Wish us luck! 
To all my readers I wish you a very happy Christmas filled with love and good company. 

Havin' a few mates over for Christmas dinner.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

A highlight of our farewell night.

Some of the very eclectic crowd attending the farewell gathering.
Another part of the crowd.
The Church held an evening of farewell and celebration to mark the end of my twenty seven years of ministry there. It was a very moving night and I have seldom attended an event when so many men seemed to find it difficult to hold their emotions in as they talked or said their good byes. There is too much to report in one post but here is one of the highlights. A man who attends our Drop-in centre got up and read a poem that he had written. He has an interesting history and I have grown to love him very much over the years. He has grown so much as a person in the time I have known him.  
It was entitled "Friday Night" by Tim Aitken. 

We all line up on a Friday night, 
We know Dave's coming, when on comes the light,
We head up the stairs, as Dave says "hello",
He's a decent sort of chap, we're sad to see him go,
Then Curly serves up sausages, sauce and bread,
And during the winter, we'll have soup instead,
Next we talk, do jigsaws and play some pool,
Or table-tennis, Dave, at this does rule,
We all get along, most of the time,
Unless Tim is winning at pool, then its a crime,
For there is one unruly guy, I won't say his name,
So up went the sign - "Smile, it's just a game!"
We'll wait for an hour for dessert to be served,
Congrats on your retirement, its well, well deserved.

Apart of our Friday night drop-in centre.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The six of spades.

I have arrived at the office early to try to get things done before I retire. I turned on the computer and received emails. I then idly played solitaire as I thought out my day. The game of solitaire almost worked out, but there was six of spades that I could not get at, holding up the whole process. It so annoyed me because I had made such great progress in the game. I had to quit the game unresolved.
As I shut down solitaire, having failed at the game but successfully planned my day, it hit me how very often in Church or voluntary groups in the community I have experienced a similar thing. Often there is one pedantic or cautious, or just plain "evil" person who holds back a group from making real progress. Sometimes they are just not in tune with the spirit of the "mission." Discussion is limited or hindered, progress is thwarted and people get frustrated because this one person "stuffs it up". Many groups find themselves moving at the pace of the lowest common denominator, and it is only one person that does it! Sometimes I think we can be too nice. Sometimes because of the evil being perpetuated and the damage being done, it would be better to make some challenging, hard calls. .... but I have erred on the side of "niceness" because I am a bit chicken. My blood pressure would have been better if I had not. I have known a few "six of spades" people in my time, though I have often called them other names under my breath.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

On TV again..

Edinburgh Grandson. His dad says "with his two favourite things"
I was asked to be a part of a 3 minute interview on the local TV station so last night I went in and was asked questions about the Christmas Dinner.  It is a strange style they have. The questions are not made up by the news reader so she tends to be detached, just going through the motions. It is also very quick so you cannot say much at all. Anyway you can see it here .

It is now twelve days before I retire and I am riding a roller coaster of emotions. Sometimes I am angry that we have not been able to do more. At other times happy and looking forward to my long holiday. Sometimes I am sad to leave behind particularly the contact we have with those on the fringe of the Church. I received a beautiful letter from an elderly man I dropped off at a bus stop yesterday. He was on his way to visit family for Christmas.  He has been a minister, a principal of a Theological College, a lecturer in Biblical studies and I have known him since I was a child. His initial comment was, "When I think of your ministry David, I think of the song 'I did it my way'" He went on to express appreciation and made some beautiful comments about my ministry.  I have had another letter and some other very flattering comments. 
I have decided that instead of calling it retirement I will call it "refocusing" - I intend to still do stuff to make a difference.   

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Our last Drop-in centre

On Friday evening we had our final Friday evening drop-in centre. There were not crowds there but it was a good night. We had made some special food and another helper had made four Pavlovas which all got eaten during the night. We were given a card which people signed and wrote messages on and received lots of hugs and well wishes. One man estimated that we had been involved in something like 720 Drop-in centre nights. 
Today I just post a few photos from the evening. We would have averaged 40 - 45 through on Friday nights. We probably had regular contact with at least 120 of Dunedin's most mixed up and vulnerable people. I still don't know if it is going to continue, but I have to walk away and leave it to others. I'll tell some stories in the next few posts.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Not so bad after all...

Oh dear..
In my last post I sounded off about various things that happened to me the other day. I had a man in my office yesterday and I was telling him my tale of woe and he was listening. During a break in my moan session he said, "Well I had a bad day yesterday too." "What happened?" "I had an accident in my car and I think it will be a write off." He then went on to tell me what happened and he and his wife were lucky that they were not badly injured. It was a nice car, barely two years old, and I doubt he will get in insurance enough to replace it. .... My day of annoying events did not seem so bad afterall.
Christmas Day Community Dinner in Dunedin...
I did a radio interview yesterday morning explaining to listeners about the Christmas Day dinner we hold. Last Friday a newspaper reporter sat down with us and chatted about it. Here is the link that goes to the paper that came out yesterday. It is on page 11.
If you need company on Christmas Day and you are in Dunedin feel free to come.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Weird day!

Today I had to have a fasting blood test so I was not allowed to eat for twelve hours before. The test could be taken at around 10 a.m. so I had to go into the office without breakfast. I had a few things to catch up on and wanted to send out a number of emails. I set out early so that I could make a good start on the day. There were road works at a certain point on the journey in, so for about eight kilometres I had to creep along. The journey which normally takes ten to fifteen minutes took me about one hour ten minutes! I could have walked it faster I am sure! I was late to the office! 
I turned on my computer only to find my email was not receiving or sending. I checked two different computers - one gave me a "Sorry scheduled maintenance" message and the other told me I had entered the incorrect password. I fiddled and checked all possible reasons. About midday I rang the helpline and they told me they would text me when it was fixed..... they have not texted me yet and it is late at night! It has been down for more than 24 hours! I need emails!  What a waste of a morning!
Phone calls and people visiting the office successfully wasted extra time along with the visit to give my blood. I finally had breakfast about 11:30 a.m.  
I had misplaced some keys. I hunted in vain at home before I left. I searched the cab of the van. I searched my office but still no keys.... eventually I checked the pockets of an old jacket I had thrown in the back of the van yesterday. There they were!  More wasted time. 
At some stage I went to the toilet and discovered I peed blood. My guess is it is just injury from my self catheterising plumbing system, but it does not help my peace of mind. 
I settled to cleaning out four filing cabinet drawers, sorting stuff to keep and stuff to discard. I found papers related to early Dunedin Habitat for Humanity plans and projects. I found minutes of a Night Shelter Steering committee, before we had become a trust... the various logos we looked at before we chose our present one. There were Church planning notes from elder's team meetings from quite early in the ministry.  It was a gut wrenching exercise going through making decisions about what to keep . I kept some things thinking "I might use that in a service some time."  But I stopped and thought... I have three services to go then I retire... Will I be doing a church service again? Do I want to do a Church service again? I kept stuff anyhow. Now I have to find a place at home to keep it. 
The last two days have had hard moments. Yesterday we spent a few hours with a couple who are going to do an interim ministry here after I leave. They asked many questions and we told what we had experienced, the ups and downs of ministry.  In some ways it was like reliving some disappointing events. (although there were lots of good things to tell) Today had the road trip, the lack of emails, the lost keys, the blood test, the peeing blood and once again the ups and downs of memories of the last 27 years. I will be pleased when I can truly finish on December 29th! 
Tomorrow morning I will leave really early. I am a guest on a Radio breakfast show. If there are road works I do not want to be trapped. That will be another interesting experience in life.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Another working week done, just three to go.

My latest grandchild - one week old today.
My son and his child. A great picture of a gentle giant of a man.
A community ministry
As I look back on my week I realise how much community orientated time I spend. A meeting at the Police station, a meeting with the Night Shelter manager and emails and phone calls out of it, a session at the local civic centre helping present a new immigrants' orientation program, an interview with a newspaper reporter, a short christmas article for the local paper, four hours involved in chaplaincy at the fire stations and involvement in Space2B and our drop-in are just some examples of time spent with a community outreach focus. I am glad about this.
Strife at Space2B
We have people coming into Space2B at lunch times who are really drop-in centre type people, using it as a drop-in. I am disappointed about this because this was not the purpose of Space2B and I would love to have catered for their needs in our drop-in area but was prevented from doing so. The idea of Space2B was that it could be a quiet place in town where people could come, have a hot drink and chat. But these folk have taken it over and do not "chat" quietly. My dream for Space2B has been ruined, I know people who stay away because these people are there. On Friday from my office for about an hour and a half I could hear loud conversation, gossip and arguing. Then there was a loud disagreement. We went up and encouraged quietness, but when we left it started again. Three guys were sitting there, feet on the coffee table passing snide comments riling up a woman who has mental health issues. We decided and told them that since it was a nice day out and the ruckus was continuing, we would close half an hour early, so please would they leave. These men simply said, "No we are not going!" "Yes you are!" we said, "you would then be trespassing!" We pointed out that this was meant to be a quiet peaceful place. That in any cafe in town if they behaved as they were behaving they would be asked to leave. We had a right to ask them to leave. One man started yelling at us, - he would report us to the police, - the church was meant to accept people as they are, - he would shut us down, - he would write a letter and I would be finished at the Church. (Which made me laugh.) We still firmly insisted they leave... and they did - this one man walking down the street still breathing threats against us. I was relatively controlled on the outside but inside I was shaking with rage. I would love to have given them "a clip under the ear" (as my dad used to say- and sometimes do.)  I would love to have even ridiculed them verbally. They are arrogant, obnoxious and abuse the space and the kindness offered! These words rang in my head; "Give the world the best that you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth... Give the world the best you've got anyway!"  In anger, to work off my rage I picked up a heavy gas heater I have been meaning to move, and dragged it upstairs. People offered to help me, but I refused their offer. It was a more constructive way of letting off steam and at that point in time, I needed to do something physical. Life is fun.
Untying the ties that bind
Some of my time this week has been taken in tidying the office and taking stuff home. I also began to clean hundreds of emails off my office computer. Having been at the Church 27 years there are heaps of my things being used or stored at the Church. In three weeks time I want to be able to hand my key back and walk away. Somehow I get the feeling taking "me" out of the building is going to involve a lot of hard work. It is like cleaning out a house after a death of a loved one. Each item, email or document has a story to it and is related to some event or activity, mostly long forgotten. I will have a whole mixture of feelings over the next three weeks as I go through this clean up process. 
Drop-in centre to close after eighteen years
We have run a Friday night drop-in centre for eighteen years. It is only now that it is likely to close that we begin to hear how important it is to the people coming. One carer of a guy who comes told me it was important therapy for his client. A married couple said it was precious outing that was important - they could not afford more conventional outings. I begin to feel guilty, but then I tell myself we cannot go on forever. We have carried it for so long. This Friday will be our last Friday and I will be quite sad. I could write a book about the incidents that have happened and the people who have passed through. It has been worthwhile.
A gift for the Christmas day dinner.
A fire fighter came into the drop-in on Friday night and handed me a letter and cheque. It was to be used for the Christmas day dinner and was a gift from a friendly society which was closing down. It was $2,500! In 25 years of running Christmas day dinners we have never run short of money or volunteers. People are generous.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

My grandson is home.

Hey here is a picture of my new grandson, born in Edinburgh.  My grandkids are sooo cute, but then I maybe biased.
He looks like he's the boss already.
Leon is in Edinburgh. I met him this morning via Skype.  He is a lucky boy.

Monday, December 2, 2013


Seen on my Sunday walk. The Koru (beginnings of a fern leaf unfolding) It is a symbol of new life and potential.

It is over a week since I posted and I need to let off steam.... While I have my lunch time coffee I will post... 
Saying "Yes" or "No"
While I was doing my chaplaincy at the brewery last week my phone rang.  It was somebody from the St John organisation where I do a voluntary chaplaincy wanting to extend my responsibilities further.  I gave a vague "I'll have to think about it" answer. I am not sure what lies ahead in retirement therefore am hesitant to commit the time involved.  When I told others about this phone call they responded with, "I hope you said 'no'!"  On Friday I bumped into one of my firefighters and he asked, "What are you going to do in retirement?" as so many people do. He then went on to say, "You will have to learn to say 'no' to everything! Just look after yourself from now on." I hesitated and said, "Nah - I won't be saying 'no'. Where would my life be if I said 'no' to everything? Imagine all the experiences I would have missed out on if I had said 'no' all the time?" I am convinced that Jesus was right. A life lived for itself is lost.  It is when you lose yourself that you find life. Life is enriched by unselfish living. If when I retire I revert to selfish living I will be miserable!
Dunedin Night Shelter Trust AGM
Last Thursday I chaired the Annual General Meeting of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust.  I spent well over a day in hours preparing and printing reports. I hate this sort of administrative stuff, but I did it and I survived. When it came to the election of officers I was re-elected as chairman again. I wished there was an alternative, I think I am better at background helping and supporting.  Maybe next year I will convince some one else to stand. The work for the Trust is voluntary, but it consumes a lot of my thought and energy lately. I was met by our manager this morning, he wanted a thorny HR question sorted out. It is exciting and worthwhile, often out of my comfort zone, but it also is very time consuming. 
Why I am still a follower..
This was my theme for Sunday's service. My answer in brief was;

  1. Jesus' principles for life make sense still.
  2. Following him empowers and enables me to be a more noble person.
  3. Following him enables me to prioritise in life, see what is ultimately important and sense the sacred in my living.
Confidence.... yeah right.
I know and admire a woman who is well educated (PhD) a militant alternative life styler, attractive and just about always in good spirits, with a keen sense of humour. I enjoy her company and we have a warm friendship. She confidently runs programs and courses and looks every bit the "together-self confident-spirited" woman. I bumped into her a few weeks ago, just after her birthday, and I joked with her as I often do. This time I noticed she did not laugh as much as normal, and after my joking headed off abruptly. I received a text later apologising for her departure and looking back on our brief conversation I realised that as she left she was barely holding it together. She was, in essence, like an insecure little girl, feeling alone and easily threatened. I wonder how many of us are like that and do not want others to know? We hide behind humour, a mock confidence, or dogmatism, activity or anything to avoid just letting others know that we are scared, isolated or whatever. 
I thought of this yesterday when the same lady phoned me to ask me to dispatch a sick hen she had, and could I teach her how to do it?  I went up to do it, but I suddenly felt unsure myself. I have killed countless hens, but never with an attentive audience! What if it went wrong? What if I have forgotten how?  What if I made a fool of myself?  We all have our insecurities we try to hide, it would be much better if we shared our uncertainties and admitted that we are all on a unrehearsed journey together. 
Taking a life...
I killed this hen. She was sick and never likely to get over it. It really was a kindness. I held her legs, gently but firmly, cradled her head in the palm of my other hand (she was as placid as) and I reluctantly stretched her neck, with a controlled gentle but definite jerk of my arm. I held her gently as her life drained out of her then reverently laid her in the hole dug for the purpose. She had lived. She had given food, company and added colour to life, now she was dead. She was once a colleague on the journey of life, and I decided it was over for her.  It is a "spiritual" experience raising all sorts of questions and thoughts. All meat eaters should at some stage have to kill the meat they eat. We would say grace with much more meaning! 
I thought it funny that when you want your chook put down, you think of the minister you know to do the job. "Dispatching a hen 101" maybe an essential course in theological colleges. She had phoned me saying, "I thought you would be the type of guy who would know how to do that." What a weird reputation I have!
A grandfather again...
On Sunday my son in Edinburgh and his Polish wife had their first child. My son is Maori/Samoan, he is adopted, but every bit as much "my son".  It is times like this that this is unmistakably reinforced for me.  I was walking my mountain when my wife texted me the news. I put my walking stick down to respond, then, quite distracted by the news, walked off leaving it behind. I was quite away down the track when I noticed it missing, and had to retrace my steps to retrieve it. I really, really would love to be in Edinburgh NOW! I love my kids, and their kids.  Welcome to the world Leon Tamati Brown, God bless little fella.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

The end is nigh!

A building project last Monday. Enjoyed doing it so much.

Early morning sun shining on our back yard.
The end of the year seems to be speeding toward me, and with it my retirement from active Church ministry after about forty years. I am looking forward to getting out because I no longer easily fit.  
Drop-in centre
We have been running a Friday night drop-in centre at the Church for nearly eighteen years... we began in 1995.  We plan to have our final night there on December 13th so there are only 3 nights of drop-in centre left. On Friday evening we had about 50 people through. (We probably have some sort of regular contact with about 120 people) Some, especially those who have been coming a long time, were getting all nostalgic. Others were all worried because it is really uncertain, and not likely that it will open again after I retire.  A man who comes as a carer or minder for one of our clients commented that the drop-in centre was very important to these people. "Couldn't something be done to ensure it stayed open?" He began to think about a multi-agency group continuing the effort. I have to walk away, it would frustrate me too much to still be linked to the Church in any way after I have retired. It will no longer be my scene. It will be sad, but I have no doubt that people will cope and move on.
$4.17 Million.... really?
There was a note in the newspaper the other day that the CEO of a major bank got a 14% pay rise! He needed it because now his pay is a paltry $4.17 million per year! Other workers I know have had a 1-2% pay rise and they get an eightieth of what he earns, or in some cases less than that. Sorry that is obscene! I think I will be changing banks.
Sermon series....
I am working my way through my last seven sermons in a series called "Concluding considerations."
The first was on "The Future" Here is my outline...
1. What to expect...

  • Incredible advances in technology... increased production but fewer basic jobs.
  • Medical science will be able to work wonders but that will raise ethical questions.
  • There will be a "knowledge explosion" with easy access to all sorts of information.
  • It will be a cosmopolitan world with people traveling and living in a variety of countries. Our communities will increasingly involve a greater variety of ethnicities and cultures.
  • Muslim / West tensions will continue and we will have to find peaceful ways to build bridges.
  • There will be an increasing gap between rich and poor within our communities. How do we find a place of dignity and worth for jobless people in our communities? There will be an increasing gap between rich and poor nations.
  • We will have to transition from an oil based lifestyle to other forms of energy. Oil is running out and getting difficult and expensive to harvest.
  • Climate change and sustainability issues will have to be faced.
  • We in the west suffer from a loss of meaning and spirituality connection.
  • The speed of change will make us feel insecure.
2. The Church's reaction...
 We can easily suffer from "Future Shock" and long for the "Old Time Religion." In all the major religions there has been a resurgent conservative/ fundamentalist element. ... BUT.. ultimately these do not last the test of time and can be dangerous, adding to the problems.
3. Positive steps toward relevant Church communities
(i) An intelligent, informed, knowledgable and thought out faith that faces reality rationally.
(ii) A servant Church earning its credibility by serving people in the community.
(iii) A flexible, adaptable Church willing to change and keep on changing.
4. God will be there.
For me God is a movement bubbling away amongst us bringing justice, freedom,wholeness, love and abundant life. This current of life has been there enhancing life for centuries, and whatever else we say about the future, "he" will be there too.

Today's sermon was on "If I started a new Church..."
I imagined that I was a Martin Luther, a Wesley, or William Booth and expressed just three emphases my imaginary church would hold.
1. It would focus on Jesus
The Christian religion carries with it a whole lot of excess baggage which gives it a bad reputation. The essence of being Christian is following Jesus, his "spirit", values and way. He would be the focus, not dogma about him, nor institution, nor peripheral religious side lines. This imaginary Church would simply call themselves "followers" or "Followers of Jesus."
2. It would be action/service orientated, rather than worship oriented. 
I find myself questioning the worship focus of the church. We spend untold resources on our Sunday worship in terms of salary, buildings and equipment. A church is deemed a success if it has crowds at worship. A minister is classed as "good" if he is a good worship leader. BUT..... in all the Gospels Jesus mentions worship only once! If it was meant to be the priority we make of it, surely it would have featured more highly in his teaching? Instead he calls his followers to be servants, to be salt and light in the world. By example and teaching he wants us to be reaching out in loving service to others. It would seem to me that a Church (or gathering) which is truly following Jesus would see this as the focus of their being.  As an example of the distortion I see in current Church life let's look at the Order of St John. It serves the community through - Ambulance service, community volunteers at events, medical alarms, a caring caller service, youth groups, Friends of the Emergency Department, hosts at the hospital, and support in the oncology department. It also has its rituals, administration and ceremonies. If St John decided that it would put all its recourses into just "rituals and ceremonies" we would say it has forgotten its purpose and is wasting its time. We would see it as denying its essential identity. It may be a bit of an overstatement, but that is what the Church has done!  It began as followers of the one who came to serve, who sent them out to serve. But by and large, it has stopped being a source of loving service, and spends all of its resources and energy on worship, administration and institution as ends in themselves. It has forgotten the "spirit" of the one it purports to follow! 
3. It would be inclusive.
Jesus got into trouble because of his inclusive attitudes toward people. People the elite and religious leaders saw as quite unfit he would affirm as included in the people of God. My imaginary Church would follow that lead. It would be open to other spiritualities. As I often say in my funeral service; "God, or the Great Spirit is bigger than our various religious interpretations." 
4. It would seek to be a catalyst in the community.
It would give its support, efforts and resources to working alongside and with other community based "life enhancing" groups. Too often the Church has stood aloof from the community thinking it is the only one with the truth about life. The "Current of life" is bigger than the Church, and many in the community seek to enhance life with a passion... "my" church would celebrate and support that. Groups like Fair trade, Sustainability efforts and Night Shelter for example, would be supported.

I have five sermons left. Watch this space. 
I came across a paragraph that could easily describe my journey over the last thirty years...

Rev. Peter Laarman writes; "What I have discovered about the substance of my faith in this last third of my life is that all else pales next to the figure of Jesus. And the more compelling Jesus becomes, the more I feel the urgency of becoming a "doer of the word" and not a mere hearer - or, often in my case, a mere preacher. This is the primary question: why do I - why do so many of us - cry "Lord! Lord!" with complete ease and yet fall so short of radical discipleship?"

Sunday, November 17, 2013

"What's been happening?"

Gorgeous grand daughter Edith off to feed the hens.

Handsome grandson, Theo.
I caught this fish at Kaka point on a family holiday - a long time ago!
"What's bin happenin'?"
is often the question asked of me when I walk into a lounge at a fire station. I ask a similar question of them. Here are a couple of reflections on what's been happening in my life this week.
I have gorgeous grandchildren!
Well, what can I say, don't you agree?
Wish I was there...
I have another grandchild due to arrive this week - in Edinburgh! - On the other side of the world! I was talking to my son on the phone and enjoyed catching up on the things he was doing in their recently purchased house. (I am so pleased all my kids seem happy to chat with their eccentric old dad - they are very forgiving!) Somehow as he talked about the expected arrival Edinburgh seemed a long long way away! I would love to be there to give support! We plan on being there mid year next year, but this week that seems to be an eternity away!
We have booked a house in the country...
Not long after Christmas we are planning to go away to a luxurious looking house near Kaka point with our oldest son, his wife and child. Kaka point has childhood memories for me. We had a great holiday there when I was a boy. I look forward to this break, but till then it will be head down, bum up until retirement date on 29th December. I have six Sunday services to go and of course our Community Christmas day dinner!
Revitalising run...
This afternoon my friend and I had the briefest of runs. It was far enough though to begin to enjoy it, and a bit further than we had run the time before. It is strange. Before our jog I felt tired, emotionally exhausted and every bit like an elderly man fit for the scrap heap. The start of the run felt hard and my chest was heaving. But as we walked down the hill and back to the cars I felt exhilarated and when I got home I went about, full of new energy, preparing for a project I am tackling tomorrow. A run lifts your spirits, blows out your lungs and generally is a great pick-me-up. I really enjoyed its impact!  Note to self, "I must do more!"

In Cassius Clay/ Mohammed Ali days I enjoyed watching boxing.  Now I hate the sport. There was a much publicised boxing tournament in the North Island city of Hamilton the other night. The NZ star did not win the main fight of the night and has decided to retire. - good on him.  But in another fight Daniel MacKinnon a professional boxer, had to be carted off to hospital with a bleed in his brain. A photo of his pulverised face looks gross! He was in a serious condition but has had surgery which seems to have eased the situation. I have known and shared with three men who were boxers in their younger days, who in later life were badly impacted by their brain injuries. Slurred speech, unsteady gait, tiring easily, lack of concentration, moodiness and in one case mental health issues were all the result of this sport. Is it really a sport that fits into our world today? Should it go the way of the gladiatorial games? How could I justify enjoying watching a sport that intentionally tries to injure somebody? 

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Seven sermon series to see me out.

"You can't retire!"
Today just after lunch I went to the Dunedin City Council buildings to take part in a new immigrants orientation tour.  We used to do these at the Church in Space2B, but they have chosen to do them in the Civic centre. Working with the settlement support worker at the City Council these monthly programs began in our church nearly four years ago. When I went there today she came up and sat beside me before the program started to tell me what parts she wanted me to look after. I then thought that I should tell her that I will be finishing my role as minister at the end of the year and I was uncertain if Space2B will continue. "I am retiring." I said. She looked shocked! "You can't retire!" she responded. - "Yes the time has come." "But ... you can't retire - you have always been there!"  I have had that sort of comment regularly. 
On Tuesday I was visiting a fire station and got talking about my impending retirement. I commented that people kept asking "What are you going to do?" and that I often felt like responding, "Mind your own business!" They said, "Fair enough." but then one added with a cheeky grin on his face, "But... what are you going to do? You can tell us!" After a few minutes this man's wife arrived and joined the conversation. (I had married them a few years ago.)  They informed her that I was retiring.  Immediately she asked, "What are you going to do?" and sniggers went around the room. That is the most common question. It is asked in a way that says, "Why the hell are you retiring? What else have you got in life but ministry?" 
It will be interesting when I do retire. I guess I will find out how much of my identity is wrapped up in being a minister. After a usual holiday period when it sinks in that I am not going back to the office, not preparing a service or not feeling responsible for people, will I feel empty? I wondered with my supervisor today how I will cope with not having something to create each week? While I look forward to not "preaching", there is something in the creative exercise of designing a service. I can give expression to myself, my thoughts and passions through each Sunday's service. How will I express myself when that finishes? 
Concluding considerations
I was in the shower the other day thinking of the weeks ahead leading to Christmas. I often find myself not excited about preaching the readings that come up in Advent (the end times stuff) or the Christmas stories. (theology in narrative form)  As I soaped myself up inspiration hit me. I could do a concluding series. There are seven Sundays left and seven topics emerged into my brain. I can even tie some into the Christmas stories. Here are the topics that emerged....
November 17th   Faith for the future.
November 24th    If I started a new Church.
December 1st…..     Why I am still a follower.
December 8th….      Rethinking "progress". (Mary's song)
December 15th….    Tribal religion verses the Kingdom. (The wise men)
December 22nd….   “Down to earth”. (Birth stories)
December 29th    Walking with the sacred.

Seven final sermons...wow.... I started preaching regularly in 1972, so there have been quite a number over the years. Wait and see how these final ones go. What can they do? Sack me? 
They have decided to have a farewell "do" on the 21st... what am I going to say then?

Monday, November 11, 2013

A Rant

Some positive pics before my rant.
My gorgeous Christchurch grandson Theo at 9 months. 
Lovely shrub in a local garden - on a recent walk. 
A great isolated log cabin retreat where I conducted a wedding last Saturday.
Real Low lifes!
Many in NZ are infuriated with a group of young men who have been named "Roast Busters". These young men get underage girls drunk, have sex with them and then boast about it and shame them on social media. They say, "You want this too. This is your best fantasy. We're doing everything you ever dreamed of doing but didn't  ..."  People are angry also because the police knew about the boasting but did not take any action.  Political commentator, Chris Trotter wrote an article about it asking the question, "How has New Zealand raised such sons?" In the article he says, "Do New Zealand's fathers teach their sons that before anybody is male or female; black or white; gay or straight; beautiful or ugly, they are first and always a human being?" He is angry and says that "The Roast Busters revelations make it very clear that our secondary schools' sex education syllabus is in need of urgent revision." I want to make a few angry observations of my own.
First these guys are despicable, especially since they prey on under age girls. But such abuse of women is widespread. In the late 1960's I was a plumbing apprentice on a big building site. We had working with us a bunch of Australian plumbers imported for the job, and of course there were a number of single kiwi's on site also.  I was then shocked because after nearly every weekend young men would boast about their sexual exploits and most often it involved getting a woman drunk enough to have sex with her. They laughed about their date mumbling in a drunken stupor while they "performed."  Since then I have encountered the same sort of actions and attitudes again and again involving people at all "levels" of society. There are people amongst professionals, teenagers, trades people and intellectuals who play this sort of game. I have come across threats by males to expose the women involved, from people much older than these teenagers reported in the media. Now I admit in the sexual field I am not one to have "notches on my belt" so people might say that I am "old fashioned" or out of date with the new freedoms. But this is not freedom it is abuse! It is rape in my book and about as low as you can go! 
Second I cannot understand it! I cannot understand how anybody can get any joy out of it? I have the same trouble understanding using a prostitute? How can I get joy out of having somebody have sex with me because she is paid to? How can anybody find any sense of manhood or self esteem when you have to get a woman drunk in order for her to have sex with you? I cannot imagine the indignity and emptiness it must be like for the man having sex with a woman in a stupor?  How can you feel like a "man" of some worth when you are doing such things? For goodness sake, go and have a wank (masturbate) if you need to "get off" that badly!  That is all you are doing, except you're using somebody else's body instead of your hand..without true consent... and that is low. You do yourself and the woman untold harm by such behaviour! Your view of yourself, humanity and women must be pretty low and twisted!  The real joys of truly "making love" is the affirmation that comes from the other through intentional physical touch and intimacy - she (he) wants to express her love toward you!  It is also found in the experience of giving physical joy and affirmation to the other.  It is the complete opposite of "getting it off".  The "Roast Busters" and people like them are lower than animals! They miss the whole point and joy of human sexuality! 
Thirdly it is a much bigger issue than sex education! We in the modern west have often looked down on civilisations where human life is cheap. We have looked at societies in history and said of them that "human life did not mean much then." Well this is the issue here. We do not value what it means to be a human being! We treat ourselves and others with little dignity. Once in New Zealand (about forty years ago) there were only about a maximum of five murders in a year, and when they happened they shocked the nation. Now they happen regularly and we get used to hearing about them. Once in New Zealand our police were very safe unarmed. Now they fear for their lives, and our police are often beaten. Our streets are often places of drunken violence on Friday and Saturday nights. Just recently there have been reports of elderly people beaten in their homes.   It is not just a matter of a distorted view of women or sexuality. It is a symptom of a low view of, or value put on human life, our own and others'.   We have no deep sense of meaning and dignity so our actions toward others are low and cheap. Somehow we are not instilling in people a high view of what it means to be human. We are not just animals following instincts. 
Finally it is also often as a result of another symptom of a dysfunctional view of life - the abuse of alcohol.  Again and again people feel that to have a good time they need to get "pissed."  On TV I saw this program about binge drinking and the reporter asked a group of young women why they were "preloading" - getting in a lot of drinks at home before they head out to the night clubs. Their answer was so that when they get to the night clubs they "could be more uninhibited, and let their hair down."  They said that they felt unable to mix confidently unless they had a few drinks on board. It is a sad reflection on our society.  (This is true, perhaps even more so, of men too.)  It is a bit sad that we have to self-medicate to enable us to have the confidence to mix and have a good time. We travelled back from our son's place on Waiheke Island recently by ferry and then by plane. On both modes of transport we sat by two different pairs of young men who happened to be conversing about parties they had attended recently, and whose conversation we could not help but overhear.  The first pair on the ferry were young professionals I would estimate to be in their thirties. The pair on the plane were 21 year olds, one a chef the other a university student. They told how they had drunk until they vomited! One said he had ended up comatose. A good time had by all - yeah right?   I have a wine or two or a couple of beers, but why do we need to get intoxicated to have a good time? We have got it wrong and it is like an epidemic causing untold harm in our communities.  The expectation is that a party needs untold supplies of alcohol to be a success, but that can be so dangerous for the vulnerable.

That's my rant. We are justifiably angry at the "Roast Busters". They are "low lifes" but they are, in my view, a symptom of deeper issues facing us in our society.

Monday, November 4, 2013


I saw this on a panel for sale at our favourite hardware store. I loved it... For better or worse, it is so often "me".


Sunday, November 3, 2013

Scrapbook clippings from my week.

Two helpful books
Rotary Clubs
I have been doing the circuit of speaking at a variety of Rotary Clubs. I am impressed by the sort of stuff these clubs do in their communities. They seem to have a lot of little projects going on. They seem to volunteer readily for tasks and always there is warmth of fellowship. I was mentioning this to a friend the other day. I finished by saying, "Wouldn't it be great to have a church like that?" His response was to chuckle and say, "Church is different. When people join a Rotary club they know they are joining a service organisation. They already have that interest." I wanted to respond but chose not to continue the theme. But here is what I thought. - When we get involved in the Church we are following Jesus. Jesus was a servant and went about his community serving people. He called his disciples to be servants. When asked about the most important thing in life he told the story of "The Good Samaritan" and then said, "Go and do likewise." He called his followers to be "salt" and "light" in the community. I could go on, but it would seem to me that the Church which is following Jesus should be the ultimate service club and if we are Jesus' followers we would expect to be servants! 
Warmth at the brewery
During the week I went to my chaplaincy at the brewery. It was my first visit following the funeral of my friend who was from the brewery. I have felt the brewery as tough going because of all the changes taking place there. The other day, from my first "hello" I felt a certain warmth and belonging. It may have been because of my efforts at the funeral, but I felt really welcome there. I was intrigued. They have a new brew floor with the latest brewing technology. Two guys who will be working there insisted that they show me around. They were proud, pleased and excited as they showed me the processes in each part. I really appreciated it. I love my job sometimes.
Me the mechanic... 
A few months ago we purchased a 1996 Nissan diesel van. It has been very handy, but it has been difficult to start. I have not had the opportunity to explore why, but have been afraid that it could be very expensive.  We have not been using it recently because its Warrant of Fitness expired. In NZ vehicles have to be examined for a WOF every six months. We had booked it in to go to a garage on Friday morning to get examined. Last Sunday it started, but on Friday it just refused to start!  We had to cancel our date at the garage. On Saturday morning I decided I would take the time to look into the problem. I hunted out a book I purchased at a second hand store years ago, called "Diesel Repair Manual" and I read up appropriate sections. I had thought it could be a glow plug problem. The book said that if one glow plug (of four) was not working your vehicle probably would not start on cold days. It also gave information about testing the glow plugs. So armed with my tools, my home made tester and my "brilliant" mechanical knowledge, I tested the glow plugs. Three out of the four were not working! It is a wonder it started at all! We went to town and purchased four new glow plugs and returned home and put them in. Gingerly I turned the key. I waited until the glow light went off, then turned the key further to start the motor. The motor immediately fired into life! I have tried it several times since and it starts instantaneously.  I have fixed our starting problem! The van is booked for a WOF check tomorrow.... but it is so good to have such mechanical success! To get a mechanic to do that would have cost me heaps!  There is something nice about fixing things, about mechanical cause-and-effect things that you can reason through and problem solve with. I would have enjoyed being a mechanic.
"The Sins of Scripture"
I have just completed reading a good book by Bishop John Shelby Spong entitled "The Sins of Scripture". I found it helpful though I think sometimes he stretches his imagination. Chapter headings are;

  • The Word of God
  • The Bible and the environment
  • The Bible and women
  • The Bible and homosexuality
  • The Bible and Children
  • The Bible and anti-semitism
  • The Bible and certainty
  • Reading scripture as epic history.
This last chapter I found to be one of the best summaries of the formation of scripture. While John Spong tends to use a lot of words to make his points, it is well worth the read. For those who are skeptical about conservative expressions of Christianity, this gives an alternative outlook.
I ran!
My friend put a pointed message on facebook giving information about a "Stadium to Surf" 10k road race on March 9th next year, with the implication that we should do it. So today we walked to the reservoir and jogged (sort of) around the track. It was pretty pathetic but it was a start. We have four months to go from walking a few kilometres to running ten kilometres in a reasonable time. Watch this space.