Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"Overalls, stout boots and a cut lunch"

When I got home tonight a whole bunch of old exercise books and papers were placed on my desk in my study. My wife had been doing some sorting out and these were old things dating back to my plumbing apprenticeship. I found this type written letter dated 14th January 1966 ....On the letterhead of A. & T. Burt, LTD. and addressed to "Mr David H. Brown" 

Dear Sir,

       we are pleased to advise that your application as an apprentice in the Plumbing Trade with us has been approved.

       Would you please report to this office on Monday 31st January 1966 by 8 a.m.

       You will require Overalls, Stout Boots and a cut lunch.

Yours faithfully,

J. R. Harrison
Plumbing, Heating & Ventilating Dept.

That means that I began work 47 years ago today. I recall fronting up nervously to the office and there was an elderly (Probably in his 50's they retired at 60 in those days) man - "Charlie" I think his name was - who did all the paper work and gave you a little pep talk about being conscientious and "you don't need to listen to the smut that you will hear!"  (He was an earnest Christian man and knew that I grew up in a Christian home.) I was then passed on to the site manager and delivered to a big hospital building site to meet the foreman. ... I confess I heard the smut.

I guess I had my life all planned out... I would do the normal things.. get a trade behind me, find/select a girl, eventually get married, have a mortgage, raise the kids, earn a living and make money to retire on. I was sick of school and having had a plumber for a father and worked with him, I was quite interested in the type of plumbing this firm did. It involved the normal sort of stuff, but also big building sites and mechanical and heating engineering type of work.  I was mechanically minded. I enjoyed working with metal so full of interest I began this apprenticeship and this journey in life.

I was young (17) quite strong and fit (I loved bike riding) but I was relatively quiet and not at all confident.  The young boy back then would never have imagined the journey of life that lay before him. It would be hard to imagine that the boy that fronted up in "overalls and stout boots" (I bought both at an army surplus store)  would have...

  • Once he finished his trade turned his back on the work he enjoyed to go to university.
  • Then travel with his wife and six month old baby to Australia for four years ministerial training.
  • Have several Church ministries including two years as a Fieldworker living and traveling in a caravan with wife and four children.
  • been a farm worker, a hardware store salesman and had a few months of unemployment.
  • Raised 5 children - two of whom are "mixed race" adopted and one a foster daughter with severe handicaps. 
  • Shaken hands with the Pope, met and talked with three Governor Generals and been invited to a reception with royalty.
  • Dabbled in self-sufficency.
  • Received a NZ honours medal.
  • Muddled through his ministry career with a love/hate relationship with the Church.
  • successfully conducts weddings, funerals and church services. (this quiet often tongue-tied boy?)
  • Adventured in housebuilding with Habitat for Humanity.
  • Become a chaplain to emergency service workers and a brewery.
  • Taken up running late in life and even entered a few triathlons.
  • Been involved in running a night shelter and an accommodation place for ex-prisoners and a weekly drop-in centre.
  • Led 24 Christmas Day Community Christmas dinners.
  • and still at 64 is not a real confident man.
There are other parts of the journey I could add, but suffice to say the life that ended up being lived was very different than the life that would have been imagined for this young boy climbing the stairs to the A. & T. Burt office 47 years ago today.  I would have made more money as a plumber! I would have lived a settled life and had some money to retire on. .... not the unpredictable existence I am living at the moment. Ah well, its been a hell of a journey this last 47 years.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

First day back...

I have just finished my first day back at work. It was a ten hour day from starting at the office until when I left the office to come home. Tonight I have been doing extra reading in preparation for Sunday, so it has been a long day. I am tired.
I visited St John Ambulance at lunch time and ate my lunch with folk there talking about life and work. I visited fire stations from 3 till 5:30 p.m. While at the Central Fire Station they got an alarm call to Knox Church (Presbyterian) a landmark iconic Church building in Dunedin. The fire fighters were happy for me to go with them and visit "the opposition". (As they called them) We could not find any fire or smoke. 
After visiting fire stations I walked to the hospital and visited three guys there. Walking back to the office after the hospital, I bumped into a couple who come to our drop-in centre. They were waiting for the bus. I stopped and had a conversation with them. When the bus pulled up to my surprise a voice from in the bus yelled, "Dave!"  The bus driver was one of our Church guys. So we had a conversation.. while the poor passengers had to wait.
The thing that got me in these contacts... and there were others during the day... was the warmth with which I was greeted.  In each place I was received with warmth and friendship. I walked into a hospital room and the patient I was visiting pushed out his hand, "It is so good to see you!"  Another guy, a retired firefighter, seemed to just expect that I would call.  A fire-fighter who is leaving the job later in the week made some special comments about how much he had appreciated my company. The drop-in couple were so pleased to talk as was the bus driver bloke.  ... but I had the question asked a few times... "Are you really going to retire?"  Followed by, "What will happen?"  It is nice to feel wanted, but I WILL retire.
The bad thing that happened today is that over the holidays I have forgotten my pass word for authorising payments for the Night Shelter, and the bank has now locked me out because I tried too many times to get the password. I have written it down somewhere secret... so secret I don't know where it is! Oh well, I must be getting old.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The system let me down...My confidence is shot.

On my bucket list - drive a big truck- these are BIG!
Regular readers of my blog will know that for nearly four months I have been wearing a catheter and bag system while waiting for surgery which will hopefully solve my prostate problems.  In that four months apart from an infection over Christmas/New Year and one or two little hiccups every thing has gone smoothly.  Yesterday we went into town to make a purchase then called at my favourite hardware store to look for a couple of items to put a finishing touch to our holiday renovations.  The car park was fairly full and the store quite busy. I walked in and went straight to the area where the item I was wanting would be. As I stopped briefly checking out the displays, I felt wetness around my groin area. I looked down and there was a large coin sized wet patch on my fawn coloured trousers.  I knew immediately that something must have come unplugged in my plumbing system.  Holding my hand over the wet patch I went to the isle next door and informed my wife that I had a plumbing problem.  "Pop over to the toilets to sort yourself out." she suggested. The toilets were in the diagonally opposite corner of the store. It was quite some distance away and I would have to work my way through crowds of people. I pulled my hand from my groin and the wet patch was now nearly as big as my hand. "I don't think so!" I replied. She took one look and said, "No!"  I was uncontrollably wetting my pants in this crowded store!  I squeezed my hand against my trousers on top of the leaking tube hopefully to stem the flow, and ran to the nearest door. (thankfully there was a door without a checkout.) I ran across the car park, unlocked the car, unzipped my trousers and reconnected the broken connection.  I sat there in the car in my wet trousers feeling as silly as can be. "Who saw me?" "What did it look like?" "Did that couple coming in the door see my wet pants?" I was aware from the cars in the car park there were a few people I knew in the store.  "Did they see me?" I drove home feeling frustrated, sad and depressed.
It was during the drive home that the consequences of what happened hit me. What would happen if that happened while I was standing in front of the congregation leading a church service? Imagine if I was talking to one of the managers in one of my chaplaincies? Then what about if it happened while I was leading a wedding? - or worse still, leading a funeral? By the time I got home I felt like ringing the powers that be in the church and chaplaincy and telling them that I would not be starting work! I could take sick leave until the operation - I thought! My confidence was really shattered. It was a good thing that I am still on holiday and did not have to lead a service today. Since then I have calmed down. It has nearly been four months and I have done heaps of services, a couple of funerals, two weddings, been running, walking, tramping, working hard physically and have been out and about doing my thing amongst people and nothing like that has happened before.  There probably are checks I could do to lessen the chances of it happening again. I will cope, but I was really struck by the way it hit my personal confidence. I know that even when things are going well, I am aware that I am "different."  All the time I am conscious wondering if my "pee bag" is obvious. So it does lessen my confidence when I am out and about. This event though knocked it big time ... for a while. 
Then I heard of a colleague who has been diagnosed with prostate cancer and needs a fairly urgent operation.... as far as I know I don't have that.  I read on the net of a man who had been wearing this contraption for thirty years!  I am not badly off really! I am just used to thinking of myself as bullet proof. Currently I am wearing this constant reminder that I am not.

There was quite a number of these working. They really work hard up this hill.
The hole in the ground in this gold mine is massive. This is just a small segment of it

We think it is an old lodge for skiers. There is an early ski field on the mountains behind.
Today my wife insisted that we go for a drive out of town, with it being the second to last day of our holidays. We headed off originally intending to go south of Dunedin, but on the southern motorway, I decided to take off to Middlemarch, an inland township amongst some high country.  We had lunch in a garden cafe there and continued to "go where ever the car took us". I remembered coming across an old stone building at the completion of a tramp on the Rock and Pillar Ranges so we went down a track and hunted that out. We checked out the MaCraes Flat Gold mine, and drove to the main road into Dunedin. On the way through Waikouaiti I decided to explore some country roads near a farm I used to holiday on as a kid. Today, though, I got lost on this mountainous track. The poor car ended up bottoming out on the road in several places. We stopped and turned around, had a drink while looking at a magnificent view, then drove on home. We had done a circuit. It was one of those sorts of rides. We had no time schedule and no particular place to be.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Get rid of pit bulls!

Gareth Morgan a local celebrity, economist, rich man, expressed his thought this week that cats should be banned.  His concern is that they kill our wildlife - our endangered birds. Now I tend to agree to some extent. We have a phenomenal number of cats per head of population and they are indiscriminate killers. While on holiday we heard a commotion up a tree in the backyard of the house we were staying at and discovered a local cat murdering the chicks in a nest. The poor mother bird was screeching and dive bombing, and even had the assistance of another bird, but the nest was decimated.  I used to walk our dog to the local rubbish tip which was then just up the road, and if you clapped your hands or yelled, a massive population of evil looking wild cats rose out of the rubbish and headed back into the bush. People letting cats or kittens free into the bush cause untold harm to our wild life.  I think instead of wanting to ban cats which brings a "you nasty murderer" response from cat lovers, a drive educating people about the damage they do and measures taken to control them would be more realistic. I suspect Gareth's "get rid of cats" call has been his way of raising awareness, he is not "barking mad" as our Prime Minister commented. But....
Get rid of pit bulls!
We rang our newly married son and heard the story of his sister in law being savaged by two pit bulls. A news item reads; "Kyla Strahl, 27, has been in hospital for five days after being savaged by two dogs on Monday in South New Brighton Park, Christchurch."
Now the pregnant sister knocked down in the story is our daughter-in-law.  Kyla, her sister, is a beautiful, lovely outgoing responsible young lady, now coping with wounds, surgery and in time the continuing physical and emotional scars from this experience. For all of them it must have been a horrible ordeal. Every time such an event happens owners of pit bulls say things like, "There is nothing wrong with the breed - they are lovely family pets!" Sorry, they are so frequently in the news for attacking innocent passers by and even their own owners or their owners' children that they are not an "OK" breed of dog. I used to run around the streets of Sawyers Bay. But down the corner of our street, where I had to go if I was to run any distance, was a pit bull. I ran past that house in fear and trembling, hoping it was locked up inside. I would pad past as quietly as I could on the other side of the street. Quite frequently when I would just be thinking I was safe, I would hear a growl and out would come this pit bull running at me. (I think he was a bit slow on the uptake - I was always nearly past his house before he realised I was there.) I would scream at it knowing that I could not outrun it, and fortunately each time its owner would appear and call it back just before it got to me. But it has stopped me going for runs from my house. It used to be so convenient.  On an impulse I could take off for a run. (before the lazy voice inside could say "no") Now its a mission to drive elsewhere to run. I think they are a breed of dog we could do without. Some of the people who want to own them have them for questionable purposes. I suspect some just have them because they add to their tough, mean looking status. Anyway, I would happily ban pit bulls. I have never met one that I liked. Perhaps Gareth Morgan could add them to his list of animals to ban?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Warm people and renovations.

Warm receptions...
I have been away on holiday and am now "holidaying" at home. Yesterday I had to go into town for a meeting. We met in a cafe and I found I enjoyed the time with people who are on the same sort of wave length and working toward the same goals. It was good to be with these people. I went from there to catch up on the couple whose wedding I took just before I went on holiday. They had a gift for me and had asked for a copy of the service. I was so encouraged by the warmth of the reception and their positive response to my leading their wedding. Apparently their relatives were quite impressed and had requested a copy of the service.  From that encounter I called in at the Church to catch up on how Space2B was going, since it was the first day of opening for the year.  The man who runs it greeted me with enthusiastic warmth, shaking my hand and smiling from ear to ear. I came home and returned to the renovations we were doing. A friend from Alaska rang. He was passing through town and could he call out. He arrived while I was painting a door.  He visits New Zealand about once a year so we don't catch up very often, but it struck me that he just greeted me warmly, sat on a stool and we caught up while I continued painting. We seem to be able to just take up where we left off and drop into easy conversation.  Sometimes the people more distant from you seem to treat you with more warmth than the folk you see regularly. I guess I do that with people I take for granted. But I was warmed by yesterday's experiences of warmth and friendship. I must remember to greet others with more warmth, it lifts your spirit when you are on the receiving end. 
Over at least thirteen years with Habitat for Humanity I have spent hundreds and hundreds of hours working on other people's houses. My own house is a fairly old not-in-great shape cheap house, though its been adequate for us. We have been here around 25 years and have not done much to the house, except that which has been necessary. Lately we have started to tidy it up, it is overdue for some TLC.  The last few days we have revamped the back door entrance way. I installed a bench unit I had built, we painted, tidied up and put new flooring down. It is so satisfying when it is completed. I am still at the stage of going out there and just looking at our handy work. Still it is not startling, but it's been done on a budget and certainly a lot better than it has been. Roll on retirement when I can do so much more.
The completed bench unit I built.

Looking in the back door toward the bathroom which we revamped last year.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Another TED talk that brought tears to my eyes.

I was not intending to blog today. I have had a day of renovating and was painting till quite late in the evening. I then blobbed out in front of my computer to watch TED talks. One brought tears to my eyes. In our drop in centre we have lots of people with mental health issues. I will sometimes have lengthy conversations with people who have lost touch with reality. I once had a man ask to play table tennis with me. "Playing table tennis," he said, "helps me ignore these voices in my head." I often feel frustrated because I do not know how to help them and I know they need more care than they are receiving. Tonight I watched a talk by Vikram Patel speak about "Mental health for all by involving all." I loved his thinking, his compassion and agreed with his concerns about the state of care for those suffering with mental health issues. I would love to know more about his methods of training lay people.  I then went on to listen to this great talk by a lady, Elyn Saks, (A tale of mental illness) who talks about mental health from the inside. I found it inspiring, challenging and very moving.  I recommend it. In some ways it is not very comfortable listening but it gives you a deeper understanding of these people. It will expand your circle of compassion and understanding. She emphasizes that they are NOT "schizophrenics", "We are people with schizophrenia".  It is a very different perspective.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

Holidaying at home.

We have arrived back home from our trip away. While I enjoyed the time away it is nice to be home and sleep in a familiar bed, where you know the way down the hall in the dark, and you can relax in familiar chairs. I still have over a week of holiday left, so I have been working on some projects. 

  • I finally finished varnishing a coffee table I have been working on. When we moved out of the old Night Shelter building there was this coffee table which was awful. The top had turned a horrible dirty grey colour, was pitted and rough. They decided to throw it out so I offered to dispose of it. It has been sitting in my shed since then. I knew that under that horrible top surface there was beautiful mahogany wood grain. Recently I spent time sanding it and varnishing it. On Friday I put the final coat of varnish on. It could be better but I like the finished product. I love bringing out the beauty of things that have been discarded. It's kind of like a lot of people. The surface looks rough, but underneath, waiting to be released is a beautiful person. We will use the table either at the Night Shelter or Church.
  • I spent most of Friday in my home office doing some tidying up and sorting out. There is a lot more to do, but it has been good to do that, maybe I will start the working year more organised. 
  • We have begun to do some renovation of the backdoor entranceway to our house. It requires painting, some new flooring cover and a general tidy up. I have been sanding old varnished doors of a big cupboard and I put some bigger brackets on a cupboard mounted on the wall. In the process I had to grin. The big cupboard was made out of old demolition timber. Many years ago a man had his kitchen redecorated and there was this big pile of unwanted doors and timber. He asked me if I wanted to take it away for firewood. So I did, and out of this rubbish I fashioned this big cupboard. As I pulled the doors off I giggled to myself. The screws holding the hinges on, and the hinges themselves do not match. We had a growing family back then so our budget did not extend to new screws and hinges. We reused things. When I put the bigger brackets under the wall cupboard on Friday, I remembered that we had got that from somebody discarding it and the brackets, which were really too small, were the only ones I had. They were somebody's rubbish, and back then I could not afford to buy new ones. I must admit the ones I put on yesterday were also somebody's discards. I love my weird lifestyle, but as you have more free cash on hand, you do get lazy and buy new rather than recycle and reuse. 
My faithful camera has died. I think there is something wrong with the mechanism that drives the lens out and in. I have to buy a new one. My old one has a view finder, you squint through an eye piece like cameras of old. New cameras have a screen you look at. In sun I can't see the picture I am wanting to take using my wife's one! I have been browsing in shops for options to buy, but none have the old view finder option? I might have to get used to the digital age. I am sad about my old little camera. It was so compact, handy and a bit like an old friend. I always took it on walks with me.
I sat in a cafe yesterday morning and on the serviette I drew up a list of all the things we could do in the remaining holiday time we have. I suspect we will not get them all done, but we will try. Wish me luck, it will be good to have the time to choose what I do.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Holidays continue...

You can see the size of these rocks compared to the people walking by.

Cute Edith gets a ride on Dad's back.

Avalanche Creek falls behind Arthur's pass chapel.

We didn't have a gun but we check the binoculars for deer among the foothills of the Southern Alps.

Beech Tree forests are beautiful to walk through.

The house we rented with my favourite car.

Picture postcard creek- beautiful country.

Beautiful Country...
We went from Christchurch to Castle Hill, near Arthur's Pass, in Canterbury, NZ.  Arthur's Pass is one of the routes through the South Island's Southern Alps. There are big mountains, and mountains and big hills all around. My oldest son, his wife and our grand daughter stayed at Castle Hill Village for three nights. My son and I had planned to tramp up Avalanche Peak, a 1830 metre steep hill beside Arthur's Pass village.  We intended to walk it on Tuesday, but the weather was really bad with rain, low cloud and new snow falling on the tops. We visited Arthur's Pass and checked the weather forecast for the next day. It seemed to be a worse prediction so we gave up all hope of doing the climb. As it turned out the weather on Wednesday was good, though a bit unpredictable. It would have been unsafe to tackle Avalanche Peak. On Tuesday I took off in the drizzle along a track and just kept walking for over an hour, then turned around and walked back.  The weather during my walk was changeable. I got wet, there was a cold wind stinging my cheek, but then I got hot from the exertion. When I got home I was asked how it was? My answer, "It was magic!" It was just so good stretching myself physically in the midst of open country with some awesome scenery all around. On Wednesday the whole family went to look at the amazing Castle Hill rocks. They are large limestone rock formations with some shallow caves which provided shelter for Maori when they travelled around the area a few centuries ago. In the afternoon my son and I took off on a track.  We did our typical gallop. The time for the walk was stated as two and a half hours. We finished it and more in one hour fifty five minutes. It seems to be that when we walk together we go fast. My son then jumped on his mountain bike and rode it. Again it was so good to be able to take the time to walk in such tremendous scenery.
But work won't go away...
We were in an area where our cell phones would not work and we had no internet so work could not intrude. We drove to Arthur's Pass on Tuesday and when we came close to the village and cellphone reception my cell phone buzzed with a missed work call. You immediately start stewing. Tonight I caught up on phone messages left at home and the office and emails sent in the last three days. Work issues needing responses intrude. I have at least ten days holiday left. Maybe I should go to the back blocks again out of range and really unavailable? 
Love my car... I love driving.
I have a 1991 Nissan Bluebird hatchback I call "Wicked Wanda". I bought it a number of years ago for $1300. It drives so well and I enjoy taking it on a trip. I wondered about this holiday because it is getting old with a high milage, but because there were three of us with luggage traveling to the wedding in Christchurch, I decided it would be more comfortable. Once again she is performing beautifully, has real power when you need it and is a joy to drive. I know she's only a car, but I do love Wanda. 
There is something liberating about driving on the open road. There is something liberating about walking in bush, across open tussock land and among big hills. You leave your worries behind and just soak in creation, space and movement.

Sunday, January 13, 2013


A presence though distant.

Our two adopted sons a couple of years ago.

The happy couple

Our Auckland family at the wedding. Baby Edith is delightful,  determined and adventurous. 
We have been here in Christchurch attending our son's wedding. We have quite a varied family. Our oldest daughter lives in Dunedin with her husband.  They are very supportive of us, our work and of other members of the family. Our second son lives on Waiheke Island with his wife and our grand daughter. These two older children are our natural born children. Then comes our first adopted child. (Let me emphasis the "our" - from our experience of being parents of adopted children, they are to us every bit "ours" as the first two are)  He is Maori/Samoan by birth and now lives in Edinburgh with his Polish wife. Then we have our second adopted boy, mixed race Samoan by birth. He is the one whose wedding we have enjoyed this weekend. We also have a foster daughter who has severe intellectual disabilities who joined our family when she was nine years old. (She is now 35) Again we see her as "our" daughter, and our children see her as their sister. We have been here with our oldest two and their partners, and our foster daughter.  The son in Edinburgh put this comment on Facebook; "My little bro's gettin hitched today, wishing I was there. Sending lots of love from the other side of the world to him and the fams. PEACE." He also sent a great message which my daughter read out at the wedding.  My daughter set up a picture of him and his wife on the kitchen counter of the house we are renting so that he is a remembered presence. She has also been a great help in enabling our handicapped daughter to be at the wedding. We have been  at the wedding yesterday and at a barbecue today. Tonight we received a text from our newly married son. He said lots of nice things then ended it with "really love you and dad so much!"  I was not much of a father, but we must have done something right. I have a loving family - I am pretty fortunate!
Our oldest daughter with her niece.

Our foster daughter enjoys a moment with my wife.

One thing I have discovered is that they are always your children. When they hurt, you hurt. When they have uncertainties and frustrations, you feel them too, and wish you could take on some of the pain. When they are adults it is unwise to interfere or throw advice around, but you still feel for them as if they were the little baby falling and hurting itself. Your feelings continue and maybe even deepen when they become adult friends. Life and family love for me are an interesting and intense journey with many joys and some challenges along the way.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wedding notes...

It is nearly mid night. I have been blobbing out in front of test cricket as a wind down after leading my son's wedding. It went well and the feedback I got from people about the ceremony was all very positive. I promised I would tell you what I told them. Here it is... well this is what was in my notes, I did ad lib a little.

Here is how I describe what I wish for you both…

I wish that there will be Few difficult times - I am realistic enough to know that there will be events in your life together that will be challenging, that may bring you sadness or anxiety. It is dreaming to think that you will have a life of total bliss. My wish for you both is that the sad, difficult moments will be few, and that together you will have the strength to work through them, and even grow in the process.

I wish for you both Health... Again, I know that this does not always happen, but I wish that you will have sufficient health to be able to do the things you enjoy and achieve what you want. I know that there are no guarantees, but my prayer for the years ahead is that you both will have a good measure of health.

I wish for you Friendships and warmth of relationships... My wish is that as you live and work in your families, your communities or your workplaces that you have warmth, humour and support in your circle of friends and acquaintances. It is sad and soul destroying when people feel alone in this world. I hope you will continue to enjoy many supportive, life enhancing and caring friendships in the years ahead. That the love you have together will overflow into the relationships you have with family and friends.

I wish for you depth in your life... As a ship in a storm is safest when it has power and direction or when it has a good anchorage, I wish that whatever you experience you will have a sense of inner strength. That you will feel connected to "depth" so that you have an inner power to achieve, grow and cope with all the opportunities and challenges that life brings.

I wish for you Significance... Linked to this is that I wish that you feel a sense of significance. My wish for you is that you enjoy the feeling that you are doing something significant with your life or that you will experience life as meaningful and fulfilling.

Finally my prayer is that you will have ongoing Intimacy...  Now I do not mean that you will be making love all the time. (though that is good too!) That’s often how us guys interpret that word. But …. What I wish for you is that you will continue to have as the years go by a growing relationship in which you can relax, be yourself and be as completely open as you are able, knowing that you will be accepted, supported, forgiven and affirmed as a person, by the other.

Thursday, January 10, 2013

A talk worth hearing...

Sorry to post again, "blogging diarrhea" it is called. But I just listened to one of the best talks I have heard. It so rang bells with me and put together lots of hunches I have.  In my view it goes to the heart of many of the issues we as humans struggle with. It has to do with individual, personal growth but also strikes at the heart of many of the big issues we in western society struggle with. It was what I was struggling to express when I talked about "just being" in an earlier post.  I guess it is all about what Jesus was pointing toward when he said, "If you lose your life you find it." It is a TED talk and here is the blurb about it...
Brene Brown studies human connection -- our ability to empathise, belong, love. In a poignant, funny talk, she shares a deep insight from her research, one that sent her on a personal quest to know herself as well as to understand humanity. A talk to share.

You can find it here.  It is worth stewing on.

I like what she says about "numbing vulnerability", about "certainty in religion and politics" etc. I see loads of people having "beer and muffins" in various forms. She is so right! Addicts, alcoholics, "know-alls", loud church leaders, politicians, fundamentalists, aggressive liberals, people who "always look on the bright side", dictatorial bosses, fashion plates and often me all struggle with this issue. We lose and weaken our experience of life by numbing vulnerability.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Green Pear nostalgia.

In the backyard of this house we are renting for our stay in Christchurch I have discovered a pear tree laden with not-yet-ripe pears. The birds are eating them! I LOVE green hard pears! I have already gone out and picked one or two when I have felt like a snack. As I have sat here munching one the taste brought back memories. When I was about 8 years old we lived in a house in Chambers Street, North East Valley, Dunedin. It had quite a big backyard and in the corner there was a henhouse. Dad bought some hens and being the animal lover of the family, (I had a pet budgie) I was assigned the task of feeding them. So every morning I would boil up the vegetable peelings of the night before, mix them with mash and whatever the weather, take them down the garden path to the hens. On the way to the hen house was a big pear tree and I would watch the the pears grow. Inevitably I would grab one and eat it while I watched the hens eating. (I could not take it back to the house, my mother would have growled at me.) Every morning the hens and I would eat together. They had their warm mash/vege peel "porridge", while I had my pear. They would get the core.  They never did lay very well, and some local rodent slowly killed them off until I ended up with only one pet one living on the back lawn. I, however, grew to love hard unripe pears. I hate the soft juicy ones you buy in the shop. They are way too ripe and to me have no real taste. So one of my holiday treats is going to be these lovely hard green pears. Now as an adult I have productive hens and a not very productive pear tree by the hen house. The possums eat most of the few pears that are produced. It is funny how much influence childhood experiences still have on you.

Really on holiday now.

On the road...
The first two days of my "holiday" have really been "work". I went to a chaplaincy, I have done some Church work and I have prepared two wedding ceremonies and led one of them. Today we packed up and drove to Christchurch. It is always a bit hectic trying to think of what to pack. I had to pack the right clothing for a wedding. As well as that I am going tramping so I had to pack tramping gear. My son wants our foster daughter (to all intents and purposes, his sister) at his wedding, so we have brought her up. She has sever handicaps so it is a bit of a mission getting her here. It was a very hot drive here (roughly a five hour trip when you stop for a meal) with a nor-west wind blowing. These are notorious in Canterbury.
My plumbing...
As we were packing up I noticed a malfunction in my catheter and bag "plumbing" system. I had to stop and correct the problem and change my clothing. I am fortunate, this is the first time things have gone this wrong. As I begin the holiday I am beginning to realise how annoying it is not being able to wear shorts, having to take all the paraphernalia with us, and how do you cope with it with other people in the house? It was really nice on Monday. We visited a woman who comes to Space2B and is part of our wider Church community. She invited us for coffee and in the process offered to pay for the operation I am waiting for to get it done privately. This is the second person to graciously make this offer. I turned her down. If I wait for another three months I will get it free (well my taxes have paid for it) and those people can use their money for something else. But it is really moving having people care for me that much. 
I WILL relax! I WILL relax!
The house we are renting for the next five nights is really luxurious. It is spacious with big double bedrooms, bathrooms to burn and spacious living and dining areas. There is a swimming pool, a spa pool and a pool table. All I need to do is switch off. The weather forecast is for hot! At the moment I am watching Australian cricket on a ridiculously big TV screen, having watched the tennis earlier. How I would love to have the ball skills these athletes have! Somehow I got dished out a "barely talented" hand of cards and have to struggle in nearly every area. Oh well we are all different.
Now what advice do you give your son when he's getting married? I'll let you know what I say at the ceremony. Watch this space.

Monday, January 7, 2013


Tonight I have been preparing wedding ceremonies. I have to lead one tomorrow evening and also my son's one this coming Saturday.  I get the couples to think about and design their own. I give them a book with a whole lot of suggestions as a starter for them, and they respond with the things they would like included.  I then put together a ceremony that I think will suit them. It is quite an interesting process to go through. I have spent the last couple of hours putting together a ceremony for a firefighter and his partner.  As I compose I hold in mind the actual people and word things in such a way that it will be meaningful for them. I am concentrating on them, their relationship and in a real sense praying for their future as I type.   I had virtually completed their service when a different approach "hit" me so I had to re-do it. But I am focused on them.
I printed that off then began to prepare for my son's wedding. The strange thing was, I had so focused on "Jack and Jill" that I found it hard to swap to Simon and Stephanie. In fact I struggled to think of my own future daughter-in-law's name for a half a minute. My mind went blank, and did not stop thinking about the previous wedding! I realised how totally absorbed I am in my preparations. It is not just going through the motions, it is truly ministry. You give of yourself and your inner-being as you seek to do the best you are able. I have one ceremony completed, and have just started the next. 

I do wish for both couples a future in which they travel the journey of life with intimacy, friendship and many years of wellbeing. They are both nice couples with such great qualities as people. Wish me luck tomorrow night, I hope it goes well.

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Holiday's at last.

A cruise ship leaves Otago Harbour in a view from My Cargill yesterday.
Avalanche Peak, the "hill" my son wants me to climb!
Officially I am now on holiday. From tomorrow I am meant to have 23 consecutive days off. I have been  asked to conduct a wedding this Tuesday evening so preparation for that will need to be done. Next Saturday I conduct my son's wedding, which also needs some preparation time. I also need to do a few things in at the office and some chaplaincy hours before I really go on holiday.  It will be Wednesday before I truly knock off.
I know that I deserve and need a holiday. I also know that the Church will struggle while we are away, so I feel guilty. I spent a bit of time this past week doing some things which I hope will make things easier for them.  It is quite hard for me to switch off. There are people I feel like I should keep in touch with in both Church and chaplaincy situations and there is planning for the year ahead that is required. I find it hard to walk away from these responsibilities for three weeks.  I guess once I get tramping or doing other things I will relax and unwind. As good as it is to be taking my son's wedding, I will not feel I have knocked off properly until I have finished that. I am good at up front stuff, but it does not come easily for me. I will be uptight until the ceremony is over.
Six days of 2013 have now been completed and I have exercised on four of them. I would love that sort of ratio to keep going throughout the year but I will have to get more disciplined. I think I am not doing too bad considering I have my catheter and bag and I am still really just getting over an infection. Last night I walked up my mountain and got into three different conversations with people I passed on the way. It was a sociable walk. There seem to be more people walking the mountain these days, which is great for them.  When I do chat with folk I find people just really appreciate the bush, the exercise and the scenery. I often chuckle. They are coming down while I am going up. They generally begin the conversation by kindly warning this old man that they have encountered that he has a long way to go, or a steep climb ahead.  I like to inform them that I do know the track well, that I have been walking it for years. It is then that a longer conversation gets going. The down side is that I do enjoy the isolation of walking in the bush. It is a great place to sort your mind out and just be alone. Now that more people are there this aspect is being spoilt for me. I may have to find a different less populated track. I am slowly feeling more fit. I have set my sights on a ten kilometre community fun run in mid March to be fit for.  Watch this space. 
Will it be too hard.
After the wedding we are going to spend a few nights with my oldest son, his wife and our grand daughter.  He told me that he and I will do a tramp together. I phoned him the other night to ask him which walk he had in mind. "Avalanche Peak" he replied, "It is a day walk." "Sounds good, I'll check it out." I said confidently. Well I got on the internet and read up on the walk. There are all sorts of warnings about it. It sounds like it is a very steep track and it will be a full day outing. I talked with a guy who had done it twice, and he also talked of the challenges we will face. "If the weather is bad don't do it!" he warned. Gulp! Am I up to it? Am I fit enough and strong enough to handle it? I began to think of calling my son and telling him to find something more sedate. I was going to tell him his old man might be a bit too old for this one. Then I stopped and thought. If I don't do it now I never will. I will pass up the opportunity to do a tramp (climb) in New Zealand's Southern Alps.  The views from the peak in the photos on the internet looked magnificent. I decided I should not be a wimp, life is too short to procrastinate, I will bite the bullet and do it. Life is there to be experienced and lived. So I will tramp with my son up Avalanche Peak. It will be him loping along hardly raising a sweat, with me puffing after him, finding excuses to stop and enjoy the scenery! (read "catch my breath") One man suggested I should give him my pack to carry to slow him down.  I'll take some pics and let you know how I get on. If all goes well it will be a very exhilarating, memorable and once in a life time type experience. I love it that this man, my son, wants to spend time with his father.  If you hear of a rescue helicopter being despatched to Avalanche Peak, you'll know who they are picking up. Wish me luck, it is still over a week away. 

Thursday, January 3, 2013

When a plan comes together.

"It worked? That was too easy?"
One of the common things we hear from volunteers at the end of Christmas Day Dinner is how the dinner ran like a "well oiled machine."  This has been true of this latest dinner, perhaps even more than others.  On the night we set up we have sheets of paper with jobs for volunteers written down and we organise people referring to these. It is a strange feel that surprises me each time. You begin with a Church building and adjoining hall. Within at the most two hours it looks like a banquet hall with decorations, tables beautifully laid out and a nice feel to it. There is bedlam for about an hour and a half with people going in all directions. Then seemingly quite suddenly it all comes together and people go "Wow! Did we do that?" 
On the day itself the volunteers arrive, the meat arrives, the vegetables, we have people in cars going around the city picking up guests and suddenly its all go. Singing happens, guest singers while chips and drinks are shared. Meat cut up and first course served. More singing and second course, gifts, left overs distributed, people transported home, pack up tables and clean up. Done! "Did we do that?" "There were no real stuff ups? That was amazing!" Of course behind the scenes there are years of experience and lessons from past stuff ups. There is a whole lot of planning and communication gone on. We talk with people cooking the food. We talk together about what needs to be done when. We talk with firefighters coming to help. I send a letter out to prospective volunteers and have a conversation with most on the phone. We sweat drops of blood planning the transport arrangements. We phone people before hand. There have been sleepless nights stewing on possibilities, making lists and seeking answers. The thing works like a well oiled machine, because all sorts of people are working and planning before hand and are alert to the glitches and getting things sorted as they happen. But as I sink into a chair at home with a stubby, I have a big internal grin, "It worked! It worked as it should, as we planned! - YES!"
"Ha! See I did it!"
The reason this post is happening is because another plan came to fruition. We needed a letterbox for Phoenix Lodge. On New Years Eve I looked for one at the hardware store, but was not satisfied. I found sheets of plywood and began to visualise a letterbox, how to construct it, and how to attach it to the fence. I bought one sheet of plywood, constructed the letterbox and the number to go onto the fence. I had just a three inch by one inch little bit of plywood left over! I painted it with old primer and old paint we had. I then set about dreaming how to attach it to the fence. I had it all worked out in my mind as I loaded the tools in the car this morning. Tonight after work at 5 p.m. as I drove to Phoenix Lodge I worried that it might not work.  I was concerned that the 50 minutes I had before I picked up my wife might not be long enough. I measured and cut a hole in the fence, with the right tool - it worked as I had visualised it. I attached the letterbox, screwed it on with the screws I had brought. I attached the number, and packed up. In the process I had talked to three different people but the job was still done and dusted in twenty minutes! Everything went as planned. I would have liked it to be a little bit neater, but it went so smoothly that as I put the last tool back in the car I wanted to jump up and down, punch the air and scream, "Yes! I did it! For just $6!" Of course they might well lock me up if I got seen doing that, so I decided to blog instead. 
It's a divine feeling... 
In the myth of the creation of the world at the end of the sixth day of creation it reads; "God saw everything he had made, and indeed, it was very good." I love that line!
It is a great feeling when a plan comes together and goes well. It is one of the real joys of life... don't you agree?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Personal Reflection for a New Year

Dunedin town hall clock chimes in 2013

Fireworks celebrate a new start.
I walked up “my” Mount Cargill today and sat at the top thinking of the year ahead. There is uncertainty related to my health, but even bigger than this, 2013 will mark the final year of my career as a Church minister. It has been an interesting journey and during it I have always felt ill at ease.  I have, however, ended up staying in when many of my contemporaries have opted out.  I guess I could say that my work in church ministry began in 1972 when I went to our Theological College in Melbourne, Australia. We had student Churches. Since then I have been in ministry, except for two years when I tried other work. (I will have clocked up 40 years) Can I look back and say, “I chose the right career”? Should I have stayed plumbing? Perhaps I could have been a social worker? Some of my lecturers wanted me to carry on studying and take on an academic career? As I approach the end of this career, did I take the right road?  There are things that suggest I didn’t. I have been like a horse chomping at the bit, wanting to break free since my first ministry out of college.
My Theology barely fits

I recall doing an assignment for the College Principle related to my view of the Scriptures. I got a good mark for it and he accepted it, but in the margin he wrote something like, “It all makes sense but you may have a hard job convincing the people in the pews of your perspectives on the Bible!”  That is a long time ago, my faith has changed dramatically since then, but his statement would still be true about a lot of my theology.  I listened to an atheist comedian the other day ridiculing religion and found myself agreeing with a lot of what he was saying. If I were to list off my concept of God, many in my denomination would count me an atheist or a heretic. I see the term “Son of God” when referring to Jesus, as people in Jesus’ day using current mythological language to describe Jesus’ impact on their life. I don’t believe that it describes some metaphysical truths about the Godhead. The Trinity also for me is people seeking to give a description of their experience of God. Once again it is not for me a theology to take on board for all time.  The word “God” has different connotations for me than for most Christians. I could go on, but that is enough to show I do not exactly fit.
The Church
I see the Church as being like a sailing ship that has too many barnacles and encrustations on its hull so that it no longer can steer the right course.  I see Church life as a distortion of what following Jesus is all about. Many Churches I see as a waste of space. Others I think promote a “Churchianity” rather than true Christianity.  Some expressions of Christianity I see as down right dangerous. I prefer to call myself a “follower of Jesus” rather than a “Christian”.  I don’t like the songs sung in Church. Most Churches and denominations are focused on “survival or growth” not necessarily on Jesus’ lifestyle and priorities.  So I do not easily fit in “Church”.
Looking back…

So I have been in ministry for 40 years finishing my career at the end of the year, with these hassles bubbling away?  Do I look back with bitterness, sorry that I chose this career path?  No, as I look back I am happy that I have been a Church minister. I do look forward to not being responsible for the ongoing welfare of a traditional Church. But I do not regret being a minister for much of my life, for two reasons.
1. I believe that the way of Jesus has “ultimate truth” about it. His call to love your neighbour as yourself, his call to live a servant lifestyle and the generosity of attitude he promoted is “truth” about life. It is of course found in other religions, but his life epitomises it. Jesus for me is important and the Church is the only place the story of Jesus is continued and kept alive. So I am happy to have been involved in keeping the story of Jesus alive.  It is an important, useful and positive function.
2. Being a minister in the church has allowed me to give expression to my gifts and to my devotion to Jesus in active ways. I have been able to serve people in the community using the Church as a base and as a springboard for action. I could do social work in my way in the name of Jesus. So I look back and feel pleased with what I have been able to do as a person as a Church minister.

I cannot say that I have had great success in growing Churches. As I look back I have not been a big mover and shaker in the Church. I have held national positions, but I have been largely ignored within the Church. I suspect my denomination’s hierarchy will breathe a collective sigh of relief when I retire at the end of next year. I have not been a big mover and shaker in the community. I have not been involved in community politics; I do not have big influence in the city and am largely an unknown. But I have made a difference in people’s lives. I recall a story about starfish. This older man was wandering along the beach and noticed lots of starfish washed ashore and stranded by the tide. He began to throw the starfish back into the water.  He would walk, bend down, pick them up and throw them in, one at a time. A young man noticing him doing this came up and asked, “Why are you doing this? There are hundreds of starfish stranded; you’ll never get them all. What difference can you make?” The older man bent down, picked up a starfish and threw it in the water. “It will make a hell of a difference for that one!” That’s me. I have not been a big influential powerful leader. But as I look back, through being a minister, I have made a difference in a lot of people’s lives one at a time. I’m glad I have chosen ministry as my career.
“Will it matter that I was?”
Quite recently a friend reminded me that a colleague used to have a poster with these words on it. “Will it matter that I was?”  It is a very ultimate sort of question.  If I were to die tomorrow, as I look at my life, what difference have I made?  I am an imperfect man with many flaws. But because I have been a follower of Jesus expressing myself in Church ministry I can say this;
Over the last 40 years overall…
·      I have enhanced life rather than limited it.
·      I have encouraged reconciliation, peace and harmony rather than adding to divisions.
·      I have given support and guidance to people and reduced isolation in their journey of life.
·      I have encouraged generosity and sharing rather than selfishness.
·      I have built community rather than added to the destructive individualism of our society.
·      I have been constructive rather than destructive.
·      I have encouraged inclusion and acceptance rather than exclusion.
·      I have brought hope, humour and laughter into people’s lives.
·      I have given people a vision of an alternative more noble way of life.
·      I have encouraged careful stewardship of the earth.
·      I have encouraged a deep recognition of each person's worth and dignity.

I guess I could think of others, but suffice to say, for all my hassles with the Church, I am pleased to have spent my life doing these sorts of things in my way. I will continue in 2013 to do these things as best I am able as a Church minister. Then it will be time for a change, but I hope I still do these things in some way shape or form.

I wonder about the Church?
I really end my career saddened for the state of the Church in the western world. It will keep going, it may even prosper, but it will just be drawing people into a religion on the side of mainstream life. It requires, in my view, a profound reformation, to rethink its focus, its faith and its practice if it is to facilitate any real relevant spirituality.  I have lived in it, compromising myself in an effort to bring change and indeed I have been on a journey of change myself. But I despair for it. The world needs a spirituality encouraged that is bigger than current Christian thinking and expression.  Big parts of the Church are regressing to small mentality Christianity. Others are stuck in establishment Churchianity.  Maybe new things are just over the horizon?  I am glad to have been a minister but will be pleased to take a step back.  Meantime I have a career to finish, and finish well. That was my thinking as I walked up the hill then sat on the top, on this the first day of a new year.