Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, February 25, 2013

Beginning another week...

Old tools which I see as beautiful.
A courtyard we cleaned up a bit today.
Once it was lost but now it is found. 
Sunday service...
I am a bad preacher. I have always maintained that you have to listen to where your people are at and as you prepare for the service try to pick them up, beginning in their field of experience and moving them on. But when you preach the New Testament I find that difficult. The New Testament assumes that Christians are on the journey of discipleship. It assumes that those in the church ( i.e. the "called out for a purpose" gathering) are on a mission with Jesus and so much of it is written to assist them in that mission. Many times we think we come to church to get assistance with just the processes of living. How do I cope with illness? How do I cope with stress? How do I handle death? How do I bring my children up so that they don't disgrace me? But the New Testament is not so much a "how to live successfully and respectably" in our world.  Rather it is an operational manual for those who are with Jesus, in the currents of the Kingdom of God (the flow of God's life) overcoming the forces that would diminish life.  It assumes we have accepted a mission seeking to infiltrate our culture with the values and ways of God.  On Sunday I bounced off the gospel reading and talked about the difficulties of persevering in that mission and staying true to its work. About half way through I looked at the people before me and thought, "They are not where I am aiming this at?"  I missed the mark.... but how can I be anywhere else? I am a square peg in a round hole - again.
Day off?
Monday is my day off. It has been interesting in that both my wife and I have had to deal with issues relating to our two interests. My wife is still involved with Habitat for Humanity and fielded phone calls  related to that. I had various things to do for the Night Shelter and spent quite a bit of time stewing on that. I was chatting with a friend on facebook who was asking me what I was doing. I mentioned the night shelter stuff, and she commented, "You don't know what 'day off' means!" I guess it is all part of our lifestyle.
Stuff around the house...
We got to do some tidying up around the house. In the process we found a tool I lost almost a year ago. I had searched and searched for this prized possession but had not found it. I had bought a replacement, but it was not as good as the original. In the process of cleaning it up I looked fondly on some old tools I have. Some tools are a work of art. They just look good and feel good. They have been well made. I recall going to a vintage car museum and seeing a display of old plumbing tools. I had some of these! If I was going to collect old things and make a museum it would be of these old tools. I have a start of a collection already.
A lovely text...
My youngest son has a new baby a couple of weeks old. He texts his mother regularly about the baby's progress. He lets us know all sorts of details. One text was concerned, the baby had not had a bowl movement in more than a day and a half.  Then came a simple text of celebration, "Theo did a big poo!" After a while a cute text came that went something like this; "Wow mum, how our lives have changed! The hot topic is Theo's bowl movements! Funny!"  A baby is certainly a life changing experience even for grandparents. One of the things we did today was get a whole lot of photos printed of our growing family. We then displayed them in a fancy nine picture frame on our wall. Grandparents and baby photos go together.
Another week ahead...
I go into another week of the final year of my career. I would love to take time to visit my grandson in Christchurch but weekends are out. I would like to visit there before I have my operation. I think I will have to take a day or two off to do it. I have an invitation to my youngest brother's sixtieth birthday two and a half hours' drive away on Friday night.  I can't go, we do not have enough volunteers to run the drop-in centre. It is all part of this crazy lifestyle we call "ministry". Next year I'll "get a life" of my own, but then again this is a busy and exciting life already... just need some extra hours.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Roller coaster week.

I have a friend who keeps telling me that I am like a roller coaster. Sometimes I am up and sometimes I am down. I am finding as I head toward retirement the current frustrations combine with past frustrations and I can go down pretty quickly.
A serendipity experience... On Tuesday I arrived at the fire station and was talking to various people in the yard. I saw a young lady come in and wander through the outside firefighters looking for somebody she recognised. She walked past me and into the "mess". (eating place at the fire station)  Most of the firefighters were in there having afternoon tea. After I finished a conversation I too walked into the room. "Here is the man who can help you." they declared to this woman, "Divine help - help from above!" "What's up?" I said. "Have you got jump leads?" they asked - "Yes" I replied though a firefighter offered hers and went to get them. "Can you take this lady to her car across in the railway car park and help her start it?" "Of course!" I replied realising that while they were willing to help it probably was not permissible.  So this young lady and I climbed into the car and we drove off to her van, popped the bonnets, connected the batteries and not without some hassles managed to get her engine started. As we were closing bonnets and rolling up the jump leads she asked me, "What is your role in the fire service?" "Oh I'm their chaplain." I said. "Really!" she exclaimed, "Thanks for helping me! It is so good to meet you. I am 'X's daughter. I have heard a lot about you."  ("X" is a long serving firefighter I admire.)  Then she went on, "Actually you have helped me before, probably lots of times. - I know once I was having problems and dad asked you about them and you gave him great advice." We chatted warmly about her dad and somewhere she commented, "I helped dad and the guys paint your house while you were overseas."  I felt warmed... My ministry was fondly remembered and had impacted this woman's life who I had never even met! Pretty cool.
Frustrating committees... Why is it that on every committee I have been on people love to hear them selves pontificating? Often too discussion seems to go around in circles, and you revisit things you thought you had dealt with? Why is it that people promise to do things and don't get around to it? Everything takes so long! This week I have felt extremely frustrated almost to the point of pulling the pin on my involvement on a committee. I go to bed at night and wake up in the early hours stewing about the way ahead and how I can help progress. I rise in the morning exhausted.
I am a racist... There is a guy who comes to our drop-in centre who has some mental health issues.  He gets paranoid about another guy who attends and wants me to ban him. I refuse and told him to just stay clear of him if his presence annoys him. "Don't sit near him. Don't talk to him, just let him alone." As far as I could see this other guy was completely oblivious to the issue and while he may have in the past had words with him, now really just ignores him. Well the paranoid guy rang up the other day and called me a "racist". (He is Maori) He told me I ran a racist drop-in centre and that he had told everybody in town that. (I found out later that indeed there were people in other churches he had told.) His basis was that I had told him to stay clear of this other guy.  He said he had informed other agencies and they were going to investigate further. He ranted on that he had told some of his "bro's" and they were going to "deal to me".  He was going to close me down, he said,  then hung up.  I carried on with what I was doing and about a quarter of an hour later I got another phone call. He told me I should think about resigning before I got fired. He was going to "defrock me" and had talked to people about it. Once again he abruptly hung up. He also left a nasty message on my home phone. Now usually when he is in one of these moods I shrug it off and eventually he comes right. This time, in the midst of my other frustrations and my health concerns it got to me. He is lucky he never rang up again because I was deeply hurt and angry. Over the years I have stuck by this guy, assisted him and been patient with him. "Why the hell should I have to put up with this crap!" I growled. I know he's sick and I am through it now but it really annoyed me and was a downer in my week.
Tonight's nice moments... We had our drop-in centre tonight. I share some warm fuzzies. There was a new lady there and I passed by the counter where they make their hot drinks. A regular guy introduced me to this new lady. "This is Dave.. he belongs to this church... he .. um ... he does the dishes around here." he said with a big grin.  Another quiet young man who has been coming came up to me and asked about the church. Then he said, "Thank you so much." He rubbed his tummy, "That was great. Its the first time I have been full all week!"  I was up looking at the TV and I saw a bag with knuckle bones in them. I sat on the floor and started playing. This young girl who comes from a pretty sad family situation, came over and said, "Can I play? You teach me!" So she and I for quite some time played knuckle bones together.  Another tough nut was waiting to play pool. "Oh knuckle bones!" he said, "I used to be good at those!" so pretty soon he was down on the floor playing with us. So cool.

A roller-coaster indeed.

Monday, February 18, 2013

My day off.

Our juicy plums. 
Love these flowers, they attract a diverse range of birds.  A lovely Tui fed here the other day.
Monday is my day off
I had to get some trays into the Night Shelter early in the morning. I had a bit of an uncomfortable early morning disaster with my catheter and bag plumbing system. Once cleaned up I went back to bed and slept in.  I sent a text to the person wanting the trays during breakfast, collected my tools and we got to the Night Shelter by 10 a.m.  We spent about five hours doing noticeboards, cupboard locks and door locks. Nothing goes as easily as you think.  I did not bring a chisel with me so had to use my pocket knife hitting the blade with my hammer. I enjoyed the time. There are people who say to me that they cannot do DIY stuff.  Though I am not an expert I cannot understand that. If you take it a bit at a time and problem solve you can do it.  But then there are skills I could never master which seem foreign to me, it is just that I am foolish enough to give DIY stuff a try. I began to do the cupboard locks and got stuck, thinking I had bought the wrong locks. I decided to go and purchase the door locks at my favourite hardware store. While there I visited the toilets and as I turned the lock behind me the penny dropped.  "Oh so that's how it goes!" I exclaimed, "I can do that!" Then I felt foolish. What if somebody was in the next cubicle?  I enjoyed doing the plain old physical DIY work. You put the locks on, screw everything in place and you can look at what you've done and feel satisfied, and it stays done. It's not like the work I normally do. 
It was a warm day so we had ice cream for afternoon tea, then we went out to pick plums. We had let the wood pigeons, bellbirds and possums have too many, it was time to get our share. As I was up the ladder there was a Bell bird nearby who was singing up a storm. They normally do not come as close to humans, but he was quite near and quite noisy. Being the bird whisperer that I am I know what he was saying... "Stop stealing my plums you thieving buggers!"  Sorry Bellbird, we got quite a lot of juicy red plums. We left some to ripen for you and your mates.  I look forward to lovely plums in deserts and jam.
I have a date.
This morning I was sitting at the breakfast table reading about the New Zealand cricket team's triumph last night, when our phone rang. I answered reluctantly thinking it was somebody going to ruin my day off. It was a friendly woman from the Urology Department at the hospital informing me of a date, just a month away when I can have my TURP surgery!  After my initial response she said, "You sound surprised? You were expecting it weren't you? Can you make that date?" "Oh," I said, "Yeees. That's good, it is fine, I... I just was expecting a letter?"  "Yes, don't worry you will get a letter confirming it, but we like to ring first."  I did not let on that because of my cynicism about our health system I had resigned myself to a longer waiting period. I am pleased that the date has been set. Potentially my troubles could be over. There is some uncertainty and my lifestyle could be changed, so there is a measure of apprehension as well. I realised when thinking about it, that I have never had a stay in hospital since I was a young boy and have seldom been ill. It will be a different experience for me.
I am a fortunate man.
Last night as we relaxed in front of TV our night was punctuated with communications from our kids. A phone call from our son in Christchurch, and conversations about our grandson. Two emails with video's attached and texts from our son in Auckland. Then a long distance phone call from Edinburgh in Scotland. It was our son talking about their holiday plans.  I felt lucky that we have such a loving family, keen to keep in touch with us and with each other.

Video's of our grand daughter.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Reflecting on the week...

Grandson Theo.
They change so quickly.. Theo asleep. So cute! Apparently he has not been doing enough of that.
Rationalising bad behaviour...
I drove to Christchurch last Sunday to meet our new grandson. We drove back to Dunedin on Monday leaving Christchurch at 4:45 p.m.  Christchurch is around 361 Kilometres from Dunedin. (As teens we used to say 227 miles) It is a reasonably long drive and in some places boring, with quite heavy traffic near Christchurch. I have been known to drive there, attend a day meeting, then drive home again. I must confess I drove rather quickly up there and back. I would claim that at no stage did I drive unsafely, but I cannot say I did not break the speed limit. I have been reflecting on that. I claim to be law abiding and yet I see nothing wrong in ramping up the speed in passing to make this often boring trip go faster? I recognise I am rationalising bad behaviour. .... but I do love driving. I need to think about that. I have found I can rationalise all sorts of things, sometimes my laziness in getting things done. It is funny how easily we can justify our own bad behaviour, but are not so lenient on others. 
Hard to leave...
While in Christchurch at one stage for perhaps nearly an hour, I had my little grandson sleeping on my chest. He snuggled into me and slept. As I handed him back to his mum, left the room and then drove out of Christchurch there was a sense of sadness. Somehow that time of physical closeness made it hard to leave and I have been wondering how he has been doing all week.  There is a physical bonding between humans that happens. It is one of the mysteries of life.  I don't think we recognise the power of human touch and sometimes we even cheapen it. Anyway it impacted me in some mysterious way. 
Night Shelter hassles.
I have had complaints that some of our Night Shelter residents have not been as well behaved as they could have been. I think that from tomorrow night our problems should be solved. I groaned as I heard about them and wondered what we could do?  Later in the week I was talking to a woman active in a group which meets in our Church. She told of some conflicts within the group, then said, "I guess you'll get that where ever people meet together?" I got to thinking that this is probably true.  People will be people and sometimes we are a problem to others.  Given the nature of some of the people we deal with at the Night Shelter we would be dreaming if we thought it would all be easy going.  I counted up about 10 hours of this week I was involved in Night Shelter conversations, emails or work. It is meant to be a spare time "hobby" type of activity.
Two beautiful women and a great man.
On Wednesday I had a meeting with three women. One was just there to sort of observe, but I had arranged to meet with the other two. One works with the Prisoners Rehabilitation group helping her "little darlings" get back into the world after their stay in prison. The other works for the Salvation Army down at the courts offering assistance to people there. I was struck by their passionate care and concern for the people they work with. In some ways they were hard nuts, they knew the nitty gritty of this group of people and my guess is that they could not be fooled easily. But they had hearts of gold. I had a cup of tea with another guy who volunteers with the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation group. In an earlier life he has been a policeman and a prison guard. Again, in someways hardened with a sense of humour, but with heart of gold that causes him to go above and beyond the call of duty for these guys. There are some really caring people out there... I need to remember that when I get cynical.
Valentines Day
The local paper was exploring what Valentines Day meant. I have a booklet that says this; "The tradition of Valentines Day began several centuries ago when Valentine was imprisoned and facing execution. During his stay in prison he was befriended by the king's (Emperor's?) niece.  On the eve of his execution he sent a note to her, thanking her for her friendship." Apparently it was Claudius the Cruel who order him to be beheaded in 14th February 278. His crime was that he broke the law by marrying Christian couples.  Another legend says it was his jailer's daughter that he befriended and he sent her a note thanking her and signed it "Your Valentine."  In reality I think there is a great deal of uncertainty about the origins and lots of legend. It is an opportunity to honour special friendships.

Oldest grandchild, Edith from Auckland on a camping holiday.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

What's the use?

Late yesterday afternoon I got a phone call from a town in the North Island, followed up with a further call from a friend from there this morning. A retired Church of Christ minister died yesterday morning. He was 84 but lead a fairly active life right up until a few weeks before he died. (Apparently three weeks ago he led his grand daughter's wedding.) He had lung cancer that was undetected until it was too late to treat in any way. He had hobbies which included walking and tramping. He was a very ecumenically minded minister with quite an intellect, so able to articulate his theology and beliefs very well. He had also worked in a school social worker/counselor capacity so was out of active 'GP' pastoral ministry for a long time, though continued to work and help in his local Church. Since his retirement he moved back to the city of his childhood and has been very active in ministry because the local church did not have a minister so he helped fulfill the role. He was once the editor of our denomination's national magazine and had completed journalism studies to enable himself to do a professional job. 
His death hits me because of his legacy. He lived his life promoting a broad, ecumenical, world centred and scholarly view of Christianity. He raised issues of justice and of the Church's interface with the issues facing the world. For I guess 60 years this outlook was what he gave his energies promoting. Now he has died but he lived long enough to see the Church in general and our denomination in particular regress into a less scholarly, more sectarian, "religious", right wing style of Christianity. The Church has moved in the opposite direction to his understandings of the faith. My guess is that our denominational leaders will ignore his passing perhaps seeing little value in his years of service. It must have been disappointing for him to have seen the things he lived for dissipating and being lost.
My guess is that the same will happen to me, though I have some differences in my approach. We live, we die, we are forgotten, I know that, but you do like to think you have made a difference? From a big picture point of view this guy's perspectives have been largely ignored. Mine too have also been largely ignored. Maybe I should have stayed a plumber and just coasted through life after all?
A story that seems relevant - In a hospital for the mentally ill there was a man who kept banging his head against the wall. They asked him, "Doesn't that hurt?" "Yes it does." he replied. "Well why do you do it?" they continued. "Because" he said, "It is so nice when I stop." Well my minister friend has stopped... I say "Well done good and faithful servant." I hope it is nice when you stop.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Visiting new grandson.

I did this 32 years ago with Theo's father! 
He is not a day old in this.
We took off to Christchurch to visit our new grandson yesterday and came home tonight. They had a long time in labour and in the end had to do a "c-section" so you can imagine that my son and particularly, his wife are feeling exhausted. It is a big step becoming parents. They are both lovely people (like all my children - I may be biased.) so little Theodore Tobias Brown is a lucky little boy. I was intrigued. I know from my experience of being a father that babies love hearing your heart beat, feeling the warmth of your skin and feeling your breathing. He was being a little restless at one stage and my son was holding him letting mum have a rest. I took over, lay back in a chair and lay him flat on his tummy on my chest. He snuggled into me and went off to sleep as I chatted away softly to him. I recall doing that when we had babies - I still have the knack. 
Such a nice thing to do!
We were walking along the foot path outside the hospital this morning and a woman came along side of us.  All of a sudden she leaned our way and said to my wife, "Excuse me, I hope you don't mind, I just wanted to say how good you look. With your colours you just look gorgeous! You look so nice." What a nice thing to take the time to do!  Why don't we do such things more often. My wife was walking on air for some time after that.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

My week's jottings ...running, talents and birth.

Waitangi Day..  Run
In NZ February the 6th is a holiday. It is the day we recall the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi between the Maori and the Crown in 1844. There are special ceremonies and speeches at the Waitangi Grounds and often protests about Maori Grievances. It was called for a time "New Zealand Day" but was changed back to Waitangi Day.  I am proud to be a New Zealander, in general we have good humanitarian egalitarian ideals that are a significant part of who we are as a nation. On Waitangi Day I took time out to run on the Harbour side track. There and back is about 10k and I did it successfully. I was pleased to see the car though. That is the longest run I've had in a while. I was quite pleased with myself, I am feeling fitter.
Getting people together...
The Dunedin Night Shelter Trust has undertaken to purchase the buildings we are currently renting. We are doing this for several reasons. It gives us security of our operation - we can't be moved on by a landlord. It will enable us to help fund our Night Shelter part of the work. It will enable us to have a solid base to even extend our work for people needing supported accommodation.  I am the current chair person of the Trust and I called a meeting of those who will spearhead this fundraising drive. (We need $650,000) There were four of us who sat around a table in a cafe and we made plans to begin this drive for 2013. As we allocated tasks we recognised the talents of each of us. There is John, a property developer who has a vision, has a business eye, a social conscience and a real desire to set the trust on a good foundation. He has the personality to relate well with people and imagination to dream dreams of the way things could be done. There is another John who is a professional fund raiser. He knows the theory and practice of fundraising, has experience and also "can sell fridges to Eskimos". He is talented and experienced in this field. Then there is Kevin. He has years of experience in the charity sector. He has real wisdom and can sum up issues clearly and see the steps needed to work our way through them. He also is a great word smith and he knows lots of influential people in town. Then there is me. Well - my talents? I'm not sure where I fit in? I have years of experience dealing with people who could be our clients.  I have some credibility in the city as the long serving minister of a church known for meeting needs in the community. But after that, compared to the others, I have few talents to offer. It is frustrating.  I came up with an insight. As I listened to these three conversing and planning the steps ahead I was impressed. Then I thought, maybe my talent lies in getting the right minds together and letting the dynamic work, and helping to facilitate the process that others do as they share.  May be I am to draw out the talents of others, connect them together and keep them sharing their collective abilities. Any way, we are on this scary journey, wish us well. If you think you can help let's know.
Drop-in Centre started...
Since 1995 we at the Church have been running a Friday night drop-in centre for people. (The Upper Room) They arrive at 6:30 p.m. (though some start waiting at the door as early as 4:30 - 5!) They receive food, can socialise, play pool, table tennis, have hot drinks or watch TV in comfort until 9:30 p.m. My wife and I have been heading this up since it started and over the years this has been our constant activity every Friday night.  The Drop-in shuts from Christmas through January until mid February.  Friday Night was the first for this year.  A couple of our helpers are out of town so we were quite busy preparing. I was in the "Upper Room" making sure tea, coffee, hot water and soft drink were all present and correct just before we opened. I headed for the door to go down stairs. Tired from my day and my week I asked myself, "Why do I do this? Do they appreciate it? Some just take it for granted? I'd love to be home now? Why can't we just stop it, it will probably end next year anyway?" Then I heard the song playing on the radio. "He ain't heavy, He's my brother!" "Oh shut up!" I said under my breath, "OK - I get the point!" I opened the doors and greeted each one with a smile. My wife met them as they came in with a hot sausage, bread and tomato sauce, greeting each one warmly and pointing to the plates of sandwiches and filled buns available. "Oh I missed coming here!" said one man. One lady hugged us and all caught up in a friendly, warm way. "He ain't heavy, he's my brother." God reminded me of my calling through this old song.
Tonight our daughter-in-law in Christchurch is in hospital in labour awaiting the birth of what will be our second grandchild. We are receiving commentary through texts from our son. It has been a long day for them and we feel helpless, concerned, far away, but close and excited yet aching for them.  Watch this space. 

Sunday, February 3, 2013

Sunday night

I like this... it has truth about it.
The Communications building near the transmitter tower on top of Mount Cargill.
I did some plumbing on this when it was built over 40 years ago.
Love the bush tracks.
Back preaching...
This morning was the first church service since my holiday ended. I led it on a very personal almost autobiographical theme. I got some good feedback but the thing I noticed was how totally tired I was after it. I did some plumbing repairs for a friend, had lunch and then had a nanna nap for half an hour before going for a run. I went out like a light. I think I have potentially 47 Sundays before I retire, but I'll be out of action or on holiday for a couple of those at some stage.  I am sure it will be time for a change.
Good news on my "plumbing problems..."
Because of prostate problems I have been wearing a catheter and bag until I get an operation. We tried before the holidays to get a valve arrangement so that I could wear shorts, go swimming and running. One nurse said it was fine, but neglected to send it out with the gear. When we followed up on that another nurse said I should not wear it. Well we made more enquiries last week and the nurse checked with the Urology Dept at the hospital. They said that it was OK for me to take off the bag and wear this valve thingy, and that apart from in bed it was OK for me to wear it all the time. I waited until Saturday to experiment with it in case it caused problems. It is so good to get rid of the bag, the chaffing straps around my leg and the awareness of it being seen or being off putting for those around me. This afternoon I have been wearing running shorts and it is so freeing.  I almost feel normal again. Long may it last. It would have been great to have had it for the holidays!
Celebration exercise
I put on my shorts and went for a brief run with my friend this afternoon. It is so much nicer running in shorts! The run was relatively short and my wife was away walking with her friend when I got home, so I decided to walk the shorter route up "my" Mount Cargill.  I was intrigued. As I was going up I came to this quite steep boardwalk. I was distracted because I was busy texting at the time, but I found myself jogging up!  "What am I doing?" I asked myself, "I haven't jogged up here in a long time?  I must be feeling good!"  I think it was part of breaking free from my bag and long trousers.  So I ended up with at least two and a quarter hours of exercise today. 

There were skips available for rubbish down the road so we filled Wanda up and even had stuff on the top. A  great Saturday clean out.