Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, March 30, 2013

More on violence..

This morning until mid afternoon I have been left alone.  After a day out yesterday I was tired and suffering. I am beginning to realise why they suggest a six week recovery time after my surgery. I set to and did dishes, cleaned the kitchen and vacuumed floors. After lunch I fed the hens, dragged a goat back through the fence from the next door neighbour's paddock and fixed the fence. All the while I have been stewing more on violence. 
When we were young my older brother and myself were often bullied in the early years of primary school. My brother and myself (to a lesser extent) suffered from skin rashes so were seen as different. (My older brother was called "Flea Bags") My dad told us the old line of "sticks and stones will break your bones but names will never hurt you" which is a bit of a lie.  He also advised us about bullying. "Walk away" if you can, "don't argue, just ignore them." Then he said "If you can't and they start hitting you, back against a wall, and if there is more than one against you it is fair enough to kick, bite, scratch or do anything that can hurt them." ... his theory about the wall was that they can't get behind you and if they punch you, and you dodge, they will hurt themselves. I'm not sure it was good advice, but thankfully we learned if we were together and ignored their comments they would leave us alone. (Thats where the "sticks and stones" line came in.) Pretty soon they gave up on us and picked on some other poor sod.   I met a woman a few years ago and was introduced to her as a "Brown from North East Valley". She apparently came from there though I could not remember her.  She asked, "Which Brown's were you, the 'terrible ones'?" I told her where we lived and she said, "Oh you were the 'terrible' ones". I asked why on earth we got that name? "It was well known that if you picked a fight with one of the Brown kids, you picked a fight with all five of them. You guys stuck together." I do recall once when some local bullies picked on a visiting cousin within sight of our house, all five of us snuck out of the back or front door of the house without mum noticing, and "dealt" to these bullies. They never bullied us again! Our cousin who lived a fairly sheltered life wondered what he had struck. Both my mother and father disciplined us as kids by hitting us on occasion. Mum, who did it more frequently, used a hearth brush or spatula. (she kept breaking them on us)  Dad used his army web belt, a walking cane or any nearby stick. So there was an element of violence in our family, though certainly not really bad. It was just the way they did things back then.
Me and Military things.
My dad was a soldier during WWII, becoming a highly ranked NCO serving for four years.  He sometimes, though with some reluctance, spoke of his war experience. We were taken to ANZAC Day parades and felt the pride of military men. Of course we read war comics as we grew up, but I went on to enjoy books about the war. I read books written about notable NZ war personalities, about the Battle of Britain (A book of photographs called "Our Finest Hour") about battle ships, cruisers and destroyers. At school we had Military Cadets and I signed on to be an NCO. This meant going to a course at the Burnham Army camp for two weeks over school holidays.  The Cuban crisis happened while I was at secondary school and teachers actually warned us that we could be involved in "World War Three." At one stage as an older teenager I read up about and filled out application forms to become an engineer in the Air force. (I never sent them in because I was lazy and the plumbing apprenticeship meant less dislocation)  We had Compulsory Military Training in those days, if your birthday came up in a ballot. I was disappointed that mine didn't.  All that to say that I was quite orientated toward military things. I encountered two men who had me questioning this stance. The first was as a young teenager I met a local man called "Walter Lawry".  He was a devout Methodist and was involved with CORSO a local overseas aid agency that our Church assisted from time to time.  I was drawn to this man, he seemed a man's man, but very passionate and compassionate about assisting the poor overseas.  I was talking about him with my dad who commented that he had been a pacifist during the war. I thought my dad would not respect that, but dad commented that "Walter is a very brave man." It seemed that Walter in the face of expectations, persecution and peer pressure chose to be a conscientious objector because of his Christian beliefs. (He later wrote a book called "We said 'no' to war" )  My father, an ex-soldier, respected that immensely. I suspect dad was conflicted about his war involvement.  This opened the door to new perspectives for me, I had the tendency to glorify war. When I went to Theological College in Australia, Principal E L Williams was a pacifist who during war years went to court with conscientious objectors, debating their stance. In our class he argued his position strongly, logically and with passion. He was not an anarchist and always said the objector had an extra burden to be a responsible, community minded, law abiding citizen and be prepared to face the consequences of his stance. Here was a man who still played Aussie Rules Football with us when he was 70 years of age, a strong farming man's man who from his understanding of what it meant to follow Jesus, decided war was wrong! I have since been drawn to the teachings of Albert Schweitzer, Gandhi, Martin Luther King and others. I can't get passed Jesus' "turn the other cheek", "those who live by the sword die by the sword" and "love your enemy". I also learn more and more about the years of ongoing destruction and harm that have been caused by past wars. The battles may finish but the hurts, disturbances, distrust and distortions can last for generations or even centuries. I no longer enjoy war movies, glorification of war and feel only angst and heart sick over wars, tyrants and violence. Only in extreme situations can war and violence be justified and then with deep sadness. We kill our kin. I am convinced that if the effort and money that is poured into armaments and the apparatus of war was put into exploring ways of peace the world would be a better place.
Today's reading
I am reading a book by Robin Meyers called "The Underground Church" he reports this...
"Before the fourth century and the rise of so-called Just War theory, Christians were not allowed to be soldiers in anyone's army. As Butler Bass puts it, 'The strong consensus of the early church teachers was that war meant killing, killing was murder, and murder was wrong.' .... A long list of church fathers, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Hippolytus, Tertullian, and Origen, all specifically condemned participation in war."
And further he says,
"Scholars are now united in this important finding: for at least two centuries, once a Christian was baptised, he could no longer consider military service." 
An Active Peace...
As I thought about it today, if we are anti-war or anti-violence it is not enough just to protest these things. We need to be doing things now to break down divisions.  It is important to build bridges of understanding and empathy so that we do not see others as objects, whether that be our wives, kids, bosses, Muslims or people of other ethnicities and cultures. Let me give you some examples from my experience...

  • Habitat for Humanity's approach of building houses using volunteer labour has rich and poorer folks sharing together gaining understanding of each other.
  • Our drop-in centre where we welcome the unseen, "unacceptable" street walking people of our city, giving hospitality and company helps to bridge a gap of suspicion and builds understanding.
  • A "Woman Across Cultures" meets in our Church and we have family nights with them where we celebrate our differences and learn about each other's cultures. Our Space2B is open on Wednesdays particularly to new immigrants. There for example I talked with an Iraqi man who told me of what it was like when the Americans moved into Bagdad. He also shared about the history and the tensions of his country. He's a Muslim, I am a Christian minister but when we meet in the Mall he extends his hand saying "God is good." 
  • I firmly believe that assisting the poor countries of the world, redistributing the wealth of the world whether done between governments or more informal agencies, builds bridges of respect and love. The sort of work Sir Edmund Hillary and his Trust did and does in Nepal expresses the essential unity of the human family. The work of the Fred Hollows Foundation helping with the poor who have eyesight problems does much more than improve the eyesight of a few people, but builds links of respect and understanding. 
  • Programs or opportunities which break down the boxes that we put people and ourselves in are invaluable. We slot people into categories such as "gay", "Rich bastards", "Greenies", "Asians" etc. Any gathering or mixing opportunity that enables people to look past the boxes and see each other as fellow humans on the journey of life with similar feelings, challenges and hopes is to be encouraged and breaks down walls that can lead to violent acts or attitudes.

 Secondly we need to model ways of peace. I have my son and daughter-in-law and grand daughter staying with us at the moment. It has been nice, but sometimes it has been uncomfortable for me. Parents with a young baby away from home have pressure times. It's times like this that I can see my son resorting to unhelpful ways of coping. They are strangely familiar, because they were the ways I coped as his father! He has copied my early bad habits.  (I need to assure you not real bad) If we are anti-violence or anti-war we need to be modeling less violent ways to cope with differences, less violent language, less aggressive attitudes and constructive win-win conflict management.  When I was in hospital recently one of the guys in our room tended to be grumpy with the nurses and staff. I determined to be nice and thank the nurses, because often they do some pretty uncomfortable jobs. A nurse finished dealing with me and I thanked her for her work. This elderly man opposite was watching. "Perhaps that's why they are nice to you?" he said. When I said, "What do you mean?" he responded, "You are always nice to them and they treat you well. ..Me... " he said, "I'm just a grumpy bastard, maybe that's why they leave me alone?" Modeling healthy ways of relating does rub off on other people. 

Friday, March 29, 2013

Why the violence?

I made the cart so grand daughter Edith can carry her toys. 
Edith enjoyed a swing at the park.
Our family picnic spot. Good Friday in Dunedin was warm and sunny.
There are big old trees all around the Botanical Gardens in Dunedin. 
Today is Good Friday and we recall how systemic violence killed a good and loving man. Yet we hear of violence continually in the news. We in NZ seem to be getting more and more like America or other more violent societies. There is domestic violence, abuse of children and violence on the playgrounds of our schools. Jesse Ryder a well known cricketer is in intensive care because of a brutal attack by a few guys outside a pub. In our drop-in centre there are often threats of violence. A man came up to me when a certain simple guy came in. He said, "I'm just warning you, if that guy does anything near me I'm going to flatten him." I just stared back at him and said, "No you won't because then you'll be in trouble."  We have a man who thankfully is changing his ways, but he used to threaten violence around the pool table. He once threatened me with a pool cue. My height, steady stare and the fact that I was holding my cell phone threatening to call the police made him back off. But why is our default reaction so often violence? Our immediate way of dealing with things that annoy us is some form of violence, if not physical then in our language. Why?
I got trapped playing pool at the drop-in centre a few weeks ago. The pool table is near the TV. Coronation Street was on. I never watch it, but I could not help but hear it. There was an hour of people bitching, screaming, threatening and abusing one another! I always thought Coronation Street boring but harmless for those who want to watch that stuff. But there were several of various ages glued to the drama. No doubt unconsciously they are taking on board the sense that this dysfunctional behaviour is "normal" and acceptable for people in our society. It was diabolical! That program finished and an action movie started. People were getting shot, stabbed, throats cut, necks broken and blown up! Apart from anything else the noise was shocking. I expressed my annoyance and said, "No wonder we live in a twisted world!"  If we feed our minds this sort of crap day in and day out no wonder our society has the taste of violence running through it!  The apostle Paul advised...

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)


 If we fill our minds with violent garbage, violent garbage is what we'll produce. I wonder too if our glorification of war and military does not contribute to this malaise?  It is extremely sad, lives are being ruined by our tendency toward violent solutions. Jesus said, "Those that live by the sword shall die by the sword" He also encouraged non-violence, forgiveness and generosity of spirit. 

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Heaven?

On my walk yesterday I found this tree. Standing underneath it you are surrounded by its branches, like an umbrella.
"Proof of Heaven"
A friend gave me a book by Dr Eben Alexander called "Proof of Heaven - A Neurosurgeon's journey into the afterlife." I read it yesterday.  I have read and reread a little book by Dr Elisabeth Kubler-Ross called "On life after death." Both books put forward people's near death experiences. I had read articles and stories about these before. I like Kubler-Ross' perspective that we are bundles of "psychic/spiritual energy" that are not lost at death.  On the other hand I had read articles by neurosurgeons and scientists debunking the whole idea of these experiences, claiming that it is just a process of the brain shutting down. (though both writers give some compelling evidence that goes wider than just brain processes) Because of these skeptics it is compelling to read Eben Alexander's book because he is a neurosurgeon and can give the medical background and perspective. Both these Doctors are no fools, both changed from being skeptics and both give basically consistent and compelling accounts of life after death experiences.
Jesus and life after death
Let me make a couple of points. First, in spite of the popular notion that Christianity or Jesus is all about getting to heaven when you die, this is not the way that I see things. Jesus was about involvement in and with the "Kingdom of God" or reign or realm of God. This is the mysterious layer of reality that is a part of life nudging everything toward wholeness. In the words of a creed I mentioned in an earlier post; "God is Love, the cosmic creativity present everywhere and in everything, gently urging all toward the good." Jesus calls us to switch on to the directions and flow of that creative love. I do not follow Jesus to "get to heaven". Secondly if somebody could prove there was no life after death, I would still seek to express the values that I see in the life of Jesus. I think it would simply be the best investment of my existence, the best and most constructive use of the time I have alive.
Two eternal truths..
Both of these writers claim that on the other side we discover truths, and Eben Alexander highlights these. First he discovered unconditional love. Secondly he discovered that we are joined to everything else.  While I find these two folks' perspectives compelling, I see these two truths as undergirding our everyday existence, whatever happens after death.
- Unconditional Love Every human being is loved and of immense value. Jesus presents this truth in the story of the prodigal son with the crazy father, who just continues to love both sons generously and freely. How they treat him does not change the way he treats them.  He told this story when people were criticising him for mixing with low-lifes and losers. The sooner we recognise this deep down for ourselves first, and then see others from this perspective too the better life will be.
- We are one..We are all part of the same essence, joined to each other and the world we live in ... we are all one. This too is a deep essential truth of our existence. When I kill my enemy I am killing a brother! When I damage a part of this world, I do damage to a part of me, another brother or sister in essence.
 Dr Eben Alexander discovered these truths "on the other side", but our highest and noblest spiritual people know them deep down and make them a part of their awareness and reality now.

It is a very interesting, human and compelling book that really gets you thinking about "the beyond."  I kind of suspect that each human existence is too special to finish at death, and that whatever heaven is we move on to join with and lose ourselves in a higher reality.
Lessons from the tree (photo above)

  • I have walked, run and driven past this tree heaps of times but never really noticed it. Are there realities and layers of life we miss in passing?
  • In the centre of the tree you catch glimpses of that which is outside. In the midst of life we catch glimpses of a bigger world and different dimensions.
  • The branches of the tree completely surround you. Is this like the love at the centre of the universe surrounding us?
Dr Eben Alexander interview. .... check him out for yourself.

Sunday, March 24, 2013

Notes from my reading..



A panorama of Sawyers Bay area taken while I walked this afternoon.
"Why weren't we told? A Handbook on progressive Christianity."

I have finished this book which is a smorgasbord of articles on the theme of "Progressive Christianity". I have been encouraged and felt less alone in my dissonance with the Traditional Church. I have felt challenged and recognise my failings. I have felt alone. Let me explain.
Schizophrenic Existence.
 Many of the writers spoke of their frustrations and difficulties while trying to minister or stay within the traditional Churches. They questioned hymn and song language, creeds, traditional doctrines and general imperialistic exclusive understandings.  As I read I felt less alone- there are others who are where I am at. One writer spoke of ministering in a traditional Church as a "schizophrenic experience," working within the traditional expectations but deep down trying and wanting to be elsewhere. That's me, and I guess one of the reasons I look forward to retirement.
Me a gutless wonder...
There was a section of the book which told of the heretics down through the history of the Church.  They claimed the right to think for themselves, to question accepted teachings and to re-image Christianity. Some were asking the same sort of questions progressive Christians ask. Some were martyred for doing this.  The thing that struck me was that when they were threatened with being excommunicated, exiled, burned or with some other punishment, they kept proclaiming their truth.  Me, I would have just pulled my head in and thought it! Avoid conflict - that's me. I do not keep on waving a red flag at the bull. I let them carry on doing their thing unchallenged. I disagree with where my denomination is heading. I just stay away from denominational gatherings and do my own thing. The heretics of old would have had the courage to challenge the leadership - but not me! Even in the local scene I have perhaps been a coward. Don't rock the boat too much... I rationalise it by saying it is out of "pastoral concern" for the people, but in reality it could be that I am just a coward. Perhaps too you choose your battles and where you spend your energy. But in reflection I think I have been a coward. So I have been challenged.
Alone...
As I read about what progressive Christians do and the various groups and gatherings, I felt alone. There were some exceptions, but I got the feel that many of the Progressive Christian groups were groups where people got together to discuss, dissect and rethink. They get their religious jollies by have a good old discussion about theology etc. That is good, but I think an essential part of following Jesus is to be in the community as salt and light, serving the needs of people. Discussion has its place but ultimately we "do the truth" not just talk about it. I felt alone because while I agree with a lot of the progressive christianity thinking, this action part is one of the essentials for me. 
Two memorable lines...
One writer reminded me of a classic line which Bishop John Shelby Spong repeats again and again. The writer was quoting John 10:10 where Jesus says "I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly." Bishop Spong when speaking of this often says a line I love;
"Live fully, love wastefully, be all that you can be; and dedicate yourself to building a world in which everyone has an opportunity to do the same." 
The second quote comes from Florence Nightingale. I learned that she was quite a free thinker as far as religion is concerned and was ahead of her time. She is most often known for her contribution to nursing, but she had a real contribution to social and religious thought. Here is the quote: 
When King William IV declared cholera a judgement on a sinful nation and asked for prayers, Florence said, "It is a religious act to clean out a gutter and to prevent cholera... It is not a religious act to pray (in the sense of simply asking to take cholera away)"
I love it... we in the Churches love to discuss and pray... but are so slow to "clean out the gutters", actually do stuff!

The old portable infant's cot - with additions to its design.
By the way, I'm not a very patient patient. I am not allowed to drive so I am a bit stir crazy. I have been working on little projects and going for walks. People imagine I should be resting up in bed recovering from my operation. We dug out an old portable cot we used for our children and other infants we have cared for over the years. It was a bit loose in the joints so I have added improvements to make it more robust, should any of our grand children require it.

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Two interesting articles...

Recovering from surgery I get to read the newspaper in more detail. Ian Harris, a progressive Christian, often contributes to a "Faith and Reason" column in the Otago Daily Times. His Friday 22nd March column was in line with my last post and worth a read. I reproduce it here...


Ian Harris is haunted by a phrase in the Lord's Prayer, ''Give us this day our daily bread''.
You've got to hand it to the Swiss. They acted decisively this month to rein in the money-grubbing excesses of the top business echelons. In other countries, the public has been left seething helplessly at them.
That happened because Switzerland's constitution provides for binding referenda on important public issues - and because Thomas Minder, who runs a family toiletries business, became incensed by the self-indulgence of the corporate elites.
In particular, he never forgave Swissair for backing out of a contract when it flew close to bankruptcy in 2001, and then awarded its former chief a mouthwatering bonus - a procedure now almost routine among the big banks and corporates.
Two Sundays ago, a citizens' initiative to end that practice won 68% support, a majority no doubt boosted by news that pharmaceutical giant Novartis intended to lavish a severance package of SFr72 million (NZ$92 million) on departing chairman Daniel Vasella. After an outcry, Vasella refused it.
The initiative, which will be written into the constitution, will give shareholders a binding voice on executive pay and ban severance packages, side contracts, and rewards for buying or selling company divisions. Ignoring it will carry a maximum penalty of three years' jail or a forfeit of six years' salary.
Switzerland's Social Democrats are now pushing for another referendum that would limit pay for top managers to 12 times that of the lowest-paid employee. The multiple of 12 may be debatable, but such a step would at last restore a semblance of proportionality to pay structures across the board.
Fuelling public revulsion at ''Abzockerei'' (rip-off or fat-cat pay) is the way it is justified by the coterie who stand to benefit from it. Big money is said to be necessary to attract talent, who may or may not then deliver. The lure of bonuses has at times undermined ethics, distorted decision-making, and worked against a company's long-term interests.
To all of which the Swiss have cried ''Enough!'' Opponents of the initiative were sobered, saying: ''The clear support for the initiative reflects the understandable anger of the electorate at the self-serving mentality of certain managers. With their misconduct, they have done the economy as a whole a disservice.''
The same unleashing of greed and entitlement has also contributed to New Zealand's lurch away from the ideal of a just society. As salaries have become more and more bloated at the top, unemployment has put downward pressure on wages at the bottom.
So we have former Solid Energy boss Don Elder happily sitting on a salary of $1.3 million while on ''gardening leave'' following the company's $389 million plunge into the red. That makes ''enticing talent'' and ''rewarding superior performance'' look like a sick joke. And the run of golden handshakes bestowed on public service chiefs in recent years only adds to public cynicism.
Contrast the $425,000 payout to departing education CEO Lesley Longstone with Labour Minister Simon Bridges' announcement of a 25c-an-hour increase for those on the minimum wage. He said it illustrated the Government's firm focus on growing the economy and ''boosting incomes''. Another sick joke.
This steadily widening inequality of income bodes ill for our social future. New Pope Francis' excoriation of growing inequality in Argentina in 2009 as ''immoral, illegitimate and unjust'' applies equally here.
''Human rights are violated not only by terrorism, repression or assassination,'' he said then, ''but also by unfair economic structures that create huge inequalities.''
I am haunted by a phrase in the Lord's Prayer that shines a light, both disturbing and encouraging, on our current social dis-ease: ''Give us this day our daily bread''.
Those who pray that are setting their sights on everyone having enough to live at a reasonable standard - not hundreds of thousands for the few while the poor scratch a living on wages too low to ensure them adequate food, shelter and participation in society. The prayer is for enough - a living wage - for everyone.
Ah, but the cost to the economy, the affordability to business, the squeeze on profits, the impact on jobs - the objections come thick and fast. A living wage is dismissed as a pipe dream, ''Give us this day our daily bread'' as a dewy-eyed vision.
It is far from that. It is a test of New Zealanders' basic instinct for fairness. It is an aspiration everyone can and should share. It is a realistic goal for political leaders to pursue. It is part of what Christians mean when they pray for the kingdom of God to become real among us.


The video below (Use the link I can't get the video to work) is also very telling. Prophets in the Old Testament, history and indeed recent studies warn that great inequalities lead to greater problems, unrest and insecurity for societies and the world. Isaiah gives the warning,

Isaiah 5:8-10

Woe to you who join house to house, who add field to field, until there is room for no one but you, and you are left to live alone in the midst of the land! The Lord of hosts has sworn in my hearing: Surely many houses shall be desolate, large and beautiful houses, without inhabitant.


video



Thursday, March 21, 2013

Egalitarianism in NZ going, going gone...

My grandson - gotta get back to see him. 
My daughter in law and grandson sent me best wishes. 
Borrowed pic of Careys Bay view.
Careys Bay Historic Hotel.
Egalitarianism a part of who we are.
I have recently read a book on the history of our national identity. One of the prized things about New Zealand culture as it evolved was our egalitarian nature. In the early days our treatment of "the natives" while not as good as it could have been, was far in advance of most colonial nations of the time. We were the first to give women the vote. When our rugby teams went overseas to play the across-the-board make up of our teams was highlighted, where as in England rugby was played by the elite. When our soldiers fought alongside other nations overseas the egalitarian nature of our military was often noted. A farm worker could become an officer, higher ranks listened to the voices of lower ranks and there was a general respect across the board. In lots of areas of life, the new colony's settlers happily discarded the class systems and elitism of the countries from which they had come. In the '70's when I moved to Australia I noticed an elitism and racism there  I was not used to in New Zealand. 
Egalitarian TV gone...
This morning my wife took me around to the local Careys Bay Historic Hotel and we sat at a sunny table enjoying a beautiful view of the bay and the harbour.  I sat very strategically so that I could enjoy the sun, enjoy the view but with a turn of my head watch the televised New Zealand vrs England Cricket Test just starting in Auckland.  For USA readers a cricket test match lasts for five days. Each team has two innings and scores runs. Often they still end in a draw because the two teams have not completed their two innings or scored more runs than the other. In this particular series there have been two test matches played, and they have ended in a draw. (They were both rain interrupted) I love watching cricket if I have the time which seldom happens. I came to really appreciate the nuances of cricket when I coached school boy cricket years ago. There are short versions of the game... one day (50-overs - an over is when the bowler bowls six balls) or 20-over versions, which are faster and more entertaining than test cricket. But test cricket is the pure form of the game where I still enjoy the battle of the minds, skills and endurance that goes on. To me each ball bowled is entertaining - the bowlers mind, skill and strategy pitted against the batsman's abilities and wisdom. I watched the game and decided since I am on sick leave and in recovery mode I could come home, turn on the TV and enjoy the cricket - here was the opportunity I most often cannot take. I came home, and flicked through the free to air channels and nowhere could I find the cricket match. I realised that the Hotel TV was on a Sky channel which I would have pay for. I do not get much time to watch TV and even on Sky much of it is repeats and rubbish so I refuse to purchase it. Not long ago in New Zealand free to air TV played cricket matches... not now! The richer folk can watch but not me! New Zealand egalitarian values are being lost.
Housing...
Owning your own home and section has for a long time almost been seen as a human right in New Zealand. It was seen as the ideal for New Zealanders. When we began Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin I went with another committee member to visit our mayor. We wanted to introduce him to the aims of Habitat for Humanity, which saw home ownership as important. This smiling right wing mayor (who has since died) listened in a patronising fashion to our carefully thought out presentation. He then said something like, "That sounds fine, but house ownership for the average person is no longer going to be New Zealand's lifestyle.  Landlords will own houses or apartments and the average person will rent all their lives.  That makes economic sense." Well it does if you are a landlord! I disagree with him, I think the powerlessness and vulnerability in renting is unhealthy. But he was right, that indeed is the direction that New Zealand is headed. Pretty soon house ownership for the average kiwi will be unattainable, an elite group will hold the housing stock and the power that goes with that.
Health care....
The guys in my hospital room were discussing this. All of us were of an age when it was just assumed the state would provide adequate health care. Medical insurance was a luxury only the very rich would have, it was not really essential. But each of us had found that could no longer be assumed.  When it was obvious I needed surgery the first question I was asked was, "Do you have private cover?" "No" ... "Well then it is at least a six month waiting list." If you are not under some private medical insurance now there are ever increasing waiting lists for treatment. I get a sore knee and have had x-ray's taken.  I asked the doctor if there was anything that could be done. His reply was "If you have private medical insurance - yes, but other wise nothing. You are not crippled yet."  A few years ago you would never have heard such a statement. There is one health system for the rich and another, much lesser one for the poorer. Once our health care was much more egalitarian. 

In my life time, the egalitarian nature of our society, which was very much a part of what New Zealand is all about, has been eroded away, and is being further and further eroded. I think this is sad. 

From my TURP recovery reading

I have spent most of today in bed either snoozing, looking up medical matters on the internet or reading a recently purchased book. The book is "Why Weren't we told? - A handbook on 'progressive' Christianity" It is a collection of writings on various aspects of progressive Christian thought and belief. In it there are some delightful writings/poems by a Jim Burklo. (Associate Dean of Religious Life at the University of Southern California.) I am generally turned off creeds but I did like this one he wrote entitled:


  A Creed for Christians.

God is Love, the cosmic creativity present everywhere and in everything,
Gently urging all toward the good.

To Love we raise our awestruck praise!

Jesus embodied the Love that is God.
He loved the poor, the sick, the outcast,
He loved the unpopular, and even his own enemies.
He loved so completely, he loved so dangerously,
that it cost him his life.

As Christians we aim to serve humbly, as he did,
Resurrecting his life of Love through communion with others.

The texts and traditions of Christianity give voice to our souls,
so that we may support each other in our quests of compassion.
Love is the measure of what is worth following,
And what is not, in all religions.
So we pray for a Holy Spirit of discernment
To express our faith afresh in new times and places.

It is interesting that the old creeds do not mention the word "love". Even those evangelical Christians who like to list off what a Christian should and shouldn't believe seldom mention "love". I like this "creed' because it's focus is "love" and "loving" and not doctrinal belief. 

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Post operation Blues

My nurse friend Malini
The Good News


  • I was so impressed with the process of the operation. I got taken into the theatre and got onto the operating table. I had the anesthetist people putting leads in me and on me and giving me a sedative. They performed the epidural which I barely felt. I turned and lay back on the bed with the operating team putting my legs and feet where they should be. I saw them lining up the monitor so the urologists could do his thing but after that I saw and felt nothing. I woke up being wheeled into the recovery room.  There was no pain. There really has been no pain. I felt guilty because one man in my room had quite some pain from his operation. I felt like a fraud. The operation was a painless experience.
  • Secondly I really enjoyed the company. After I came out of the recovery room I got put into a room in the ward which had three other guys in it. As I sat in my bed the guy diagonally opposite heard the nurse ask me what I preferred to be called. When she went away he, bandaged with tubes attached looked in my direction and said, "Hi Dave, I'm Merve."  We then introduced ourselves around the room. Merve (early sixties, farmer/freezing works worker) John (about 80 - retired farmer) and Bill (92 - retired farm worker) We talked, joked, laughed, supported one another and generally got on well. The nurses said we were the "worst" room in the ward, but by that I think they meant we were the best.  
  • The nurses were wonderful. They all had different personalities but they treated us with respect, care and compassion. They gently asked about our needs. They joked appropriately and went about their tasks in a beautiful manner. There was one nurse aid who threw a good humoured comment at me when we passed her on the way to the theatre. I, of course responded, but every time she came into our room she kept up this good humoured banter. It turned out she lives around the corner from me and remembers my sons attending the local school. She was surprised by the number of visitors I received and said I must be a preacher paying for his church members to visit him. She never did know that I actually was a preacher, though one of my firefighter visitors told her I was known as "Father Ted". I was so impressed with the nurses and their care.
  • I appreciated the people who called to see me, rang my wife to see how I was, or texted me. It was humbling to have a wide variety of people genuinely interested. People from the Church, fire fighters, friends in the community and others. I felt really guilty because I had so many visitors compared with my room mates. 
The bad news...


  • The bad news is that at this stage it looks like it achieved nothing! I ended up after the operation with a line hydrating me into the back of my hand. I had a tube running into my bladder flushing out the bits they chopped up, the blood and stuff. A catheter out carrying all this stuff away. First they took off the hydrating line. Then this morning they took out the catheter and for the first time in six months I had a normal looking penis, and I could go to the toilet and pee naturally. I almost did a dance for the sense of freedom this gave me. I was hopeful of a good result, that my life could eventually get back to normal. They measured what came out and scanned to see how much was left in. We went through the process several times. The bad news was that I was still retaining too much. They decided they would need to put a catheter back in.
  • I asked the urology registrar about it and he told me simply that 10% of patients go home with a catheter and I was one of them - I was told the risks. He said in six weeks they would do a trial removal and see.  He saw my disappointment and said "we'll make it four weeks". I still wanted to go home without a catheter so I asked, "What difference will four weeks make?" He replied "Maybe your urethra will have healed by then." He then went on... ".. meanwhile the nurse will educate you on how to look after a catheter and bag." I nearly jumped down his throat, "I don't need educated. I have worn a catheter for six months and I was hoping this whole exercise would be an end to that." He went away to fill out the paper work.
  • I felt reasonably strong in the hospital. After I had a catheter refitted (by an embarrassed young woman med student for whom it was her first experience.- I was nice to her.) I packed my bag, walked to the car and my wife drove me home. By the time I came home I was bleeding out of my catheter, sore from the bumpy ride and feeling very weak and tired. I now know why they said it would take weeks to recover. So as I write I am feeling weak, tired, tender and deeply disappointed. My life has been turned upside down, my usual activities curtailed and my body put through the ringer most probably for no real purpose. ... As Merve said when he shook my hand as I left - "Shit happens!" But in one of my room mates they thought they had found a tumor. He requires further scans and more surgery. Another had just had cancer cut out, had incredible pain and a long road to recovery. So my troubles are not quite so bad. 
I finish with a good story. We have a lovely Indian lady at Church who works in the recovery room at the hospital. While I was waiting for the operation she took time out to check how I was going. In the recovery room she was not allowed to work on me, but she kept looking, waving and smiling. After she finished her shift on both days she called in to check on me and sometimes did things to make my stay easier. Her smile and "Hello Pastor!" brightens any day. (I have never convinced her nor her husband to call me "Dave" ) But the cutest thing she did was this. I was sitting in bed on Tuesday morning and suddenly just before 9 a.m. she appeared. "Hello Pastor!" she said beaming her beautiful smile. "Here! - for you. I'm starting work." She was on her way to work, but she had stopped off and bought me a muffin and a cup of coffee. Smiling she placed these in front of me, waved and disappeared. She is lovely. In the whole experience, though deeply disappointing, I have enjoyed the people I have met. People are good, even if "shit happens."

Sunday, March 17, 2013

Operation today - out of control feeling.

God
grant me
SERENITY
to accept
the things
I cannot change
COURAGE
to change the things
I can, and
WISDOM
to know the
difference.

In a few hours I go to the hospital to have an operation. It will be an "out of my comfort zone" experience for me. I have visited hospitals frequently over the years, but never stayed in one. (Apart from an overnight stay in the Emergency Department once)  When I was a child I had two stays in hospital but I can barely remember them. I have reflected on my feelings over the last months and have come to the conclusion that my main concern is the feeling of being powerless and out of control.
Out of control prostate..
I have an enlarged prostate that seems to be getting bigger. If I am getting fat I can eat less and exercise more. I have some control. But I know of no exercise by which I can control my prostate. It has progressively caused me problems and brought on that "getting old" feeling. We have a stretched health system here so I have found that the visits to specialists have been rushed affairs. There's a waiting room full of people and a waiting list so the poor specialists treat, briefly talk and shove you out the door. I have not had a really good conversation with anyone. They just say, "We'll do (this) next." but nobody really sits down to explain. So for the last couple of years I have been battling symptoms which were getting worse and have not felt confident about my treatment. I am an ex-plumber. I like a cause and effect world and anything mechanical I pull apart to see how it works. I don't like this gland in my body which for no particular reason keeps enlarging. I want to understand it. I want to control it!
Today I'll be out of control...
I admit I am a bit of a control freak. I tend not to delegate because nobody can do stuff like I would want them to do. I get annoyed about things I cannot control. In the Serenity Prayer I really need "the serenity to accept the things I cannot change..." I do not like even being in a car that somebody else is driving. I used to get headaches on the shortest plane trip, I think because I felt out of control and vulnerable.  If there is one weak patch in the conversations in our marriage over the years, it has been me almost yelling at my wife, "Don't tell me what to do!"  There are many areas in my life where I feel I do not have control, I often feel squeezed into a mould but mostly I like to be in control. Today I go to hospital and I will have to hand over control. I am going to be doped and have unmentionable things done to me. I will be told when to eat and what to eat. I will be told when to stand and when to sit. I will have treatment others decide for me. Because of my complaint my "going to the toilet" will be controlled and monitored. The bits of paper say I will even have somebody assisting me to shower!  I will be told when I can leave the hospital.  I think it is that "out of control" feeling that scares me more than anything.
Get used to it....
I think to the scary thing is I have to get used to it. That is life as you get older. Things happen to your body and you cannot change them. On Saturday we had a coffee in a cafe attached to the local sports stadium and university gym. There are fit young people running past. I look at them and remember. I know that when I run these days after a few runs I have a sore knee. I will never run as freely as I used to run, I look on in envy.  I will still try running, more slowly, less frequently and gently, it is too good to give up completely. But here is another part of life out of control. M Scott-Peck suggested that this "letting go" process is one of the most important lessons in life. I know it is important in marriage relationships and in friendships. If you are going to sustain them in any real way you have to let people in and let go. I have learned that. We are all heading toward a final "letting go."  I see older people slowly letting go their big house, their possessions, their ability to drive and their control of life itself.  This "letting go" skill and the wisdom that goes along with it are an essential part of life. I guess today I will learn more about that process. I keep trying to tell myself, "Let go and trust others." Friends tell me, "You just have to trust them Dave, they know what they are doing." - yeah right? - Wish me luck.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

"Rubbish!"

I received this in an artistically worked religious email during the week.

First my car broke down
I was very late for work
But I missed that awful accident
Was that Your handiwork?

I found the house I loved

but others got there first
I was angry, then relieved
When I heard the pipes had burst.

Yesterday I found the perfect dress

But the colour was too pale,
Today I found the dress in red,
would you believe, it was on sale?

I know you're watching over me

and I'm feeling truly blessed,
For no matter what I pray for, you always know what's best.
......... It continues but that's enough.  Here are two other examples of "Faith"
  • There was a write up in the local paper about an accident. This man on a bicycle had entered a main highway, and then as I read it, had done a pretty unwise maneuver.  Some unsuspecting driver of a car hit him and wrecked his bike. The man survived with some minor injuries. The emergency workers attending the scene reported that he was "pretty lucky."  The man, a lay preacher in a rural church, said something like, "It wasn't luck. We know it was God looking after me!" 
  • Some girls on a school trip to the beach found themselves swept away by the currents in the water. Luckily three surfers who were having a lunch break from work saw their plight and helped them to safety. A number had hypothermia.  They were exceptionally lucky, it could easily have led to the loss of several lives.  One saintly lady from the school is reported to have said, "Everything happens for a reason."
These are three examples of religious people's "faith".  Let me tell you how I feel about them. Please excuse the language but I have to express it strongly. They are BULLSHIT!  I get angry when people present or depict the Christian faith like some primitive tribal religion.  The God I worship is depicted as running around organising red dresses at sale price for his precious child!
I was talking to a man last weekend and he told me his wife was nursing a 21 year old young woman dying of cancer. "How does that fit in with your God then?" he challenged me. Go tell that 21 year old dying of cancer that "everything happens for a reason"!   Does God give 21 year olds cancer?  Was God running around protecting his child from awful accidents, by mucking around mechanically with her car, when thousands were being killed by earthquake in Japan? We have multitudes in Zimbabwe and other places in the world, struggling in poverty and oppression, often malnourished. Go tell them that "my God is running around organising cheap red dresses for me!" The cyclist who thought God was looking after him when he did unwise moves, should go chat to the widow of a lovely Christian doctor. He was cycling home for lunch and through no fault of his own was squashed by a truck. Where was this God then? Thats enough ranting. Such a view of God is primitive, superstitious rubbish! It does not face reality honestly, it turns us into little children and insults the true way of Jesus.  It turns God into our private super-hero who looks after us.  
Now I am sure there will be people who say that I have little "faith".  If being a believer means believing in this sort of superstition, count me among the atheists. I feel embarrassed, angry and ashamed when fellow "Christians" make such claims.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Widen the circle...

As you drive...be aware of what is going on around you....
I was driving my old van behind another van which seemed to be pulling over to the side of the road. I pulled out to drive passed him, but as I accelerated to go past, he suddenly, without warning did a right hand turn colliding with me. It was obvious that he had been completely unaware that I was behind him! He was in his own wee world, oblivious to other traffic on the road. The other day I followed a car looking for a shop. Again the driver was concentrating on his world, oblivious to the fact that there was a line up of cars behind wanting to move on. We do this while driving, we get so wrapped in our own world the needs of others are not seen.   My dad started to teach me to drive. He told me "the driver's eyes should keep doing a circuit, his speedometer, a distance look ahead, to the sides, his rear vision mirrors and back to an imaginary track he wants his vehicle to go in." "As you drive," he said, "be completely aware of all that is going on around you."
Compassionate people widen their circle of concern. 
I was talking to a church group about the Night Shelter work and our drop-in centre and mentioning the plight of long term unemployed people and of those with mental health issues.  They walk the streets of our town. We have 40 - 50 of them in our drop-in every Friday night. The people in the group asked, "Where are these people? I don't see them?" I was talking to a very generous man about donating to the  Night Shelter. His comment was that his rich friends don't see the need. "I see the need and am sympathetic because I have a son who battles mental health issues." he said, "But most of these people are oblivious to the need in Dunedin." If we are to be compassionate people we widen the circle to seek to be aware of, and feel empathy for a wider group of people than just us and our family.
An historical NZ example...
New Zealand was once divided into several provinces, each of which had a governing group. In 1878 the "Abolition of the Provinces Bill" was passed, making us one country with one parliament. While that was being debated a politician by the name of Edward Stafford said this about when he led parliament. 
"From that moment, I determined to be a New Zealander. I determined to neither know Auckland nor Nelson, nor Wellington, nor Otago, ( i.e. the provinces) and it has been a matter of reproach to me that I have no local sympathy. I have a great deal higher sympathy than that of mere locality. I can claim to have done something towards the prosperity, the unity and the future greatness of a country which has a natural geographical boundary....." 
He had let go of his former loyalty to the locality he lived in, and decided to look at what was good for the whole of New Zealand. He had a broader, wider, more inclusive perspective of the world. The ultimate in this direction is to become a citizen of the whole world and recognise our unity and solidarity across all the boundaries we have. Jesus smashed the cultural, religious and racial boundaries of his day. The early Church went on to express the same style of life.
Compassion involves living this way...
Most people are good. But as good as we may be, we often choose to confine our compassion and empathy to a restricted group of people. Our family. The people of our "set". Our nationality. But truly compassionate people widen their circle of compassion and empathy. They live like my father wanted me to drive, keeping "aware of all that is going on around you." They feel for and sense a connection with people who are different or distant. 
Compassion makes you happy 
Roko Belic made a documentary entitled "Happy". It took him five years and led him to around fourteen different countries encountering people in all sorts of life circumstances. He found that "happiness" was very much tied to our values. If we value extrinsic values - money, possession, consumption, power, fame and good looks, - and prioritise these in our lives we are less likely to be happy. However, if we value intrinsic values - cooperation, compassion, wanting to make the world a better place, friendship, community and connection - we are much more likely to live consistently happier lives. Jesus said, "If you lose your life, you will find it." and "In giving you receive". 
I find that the people I deal with are often messed up, because they do not have "a great deal higher sympathy" than themselves or their family. Those who are happiest are the ones who give themselves in service. Roko Belic's film ends with the story of a rich banker. He gave up a life of luxury to live in India working for Mother Teresa's movement there. After 17 years of this he was asked why he continued to live this seemingly self denying life-style. His answer - "Because it makes me happy."

video
video

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Sunday night stewing...

I had time off...
On Tuesday evening I think I had a bit of a reaction to some food. We had Turkish takeaways because we had a meeting at 6 p.m.  By the end of the meeting I was uncomfortable and shivering. I slept through most of Wednesday, and while I went in to the office on Thursday, I was weak and listless. I was scared it might delay my operation! The Doctor declared it food related but gave me antibiotics just in case. By Friday I was a new man again, though tired. 

Unexpected helpers...
We had a Night Shelter working bee on Saturday morning. I was not as organised as I wanted to be in leading it, partly because of my bout of illness. I had emailed all the Churches I had emails for in the hope of gathering extra helpers.  We had Night Shelter Trust board members, another couple of friends turned up, then to my surprise a contingent of people turned up from the local Mormon Church. Now I do not go along with Mormon beliefs, but I was so impressed with these young people. Of all the Churches that received my email, they turned up. Come morning tea time we realised that cups of tea and coffee were probably not their thing. During our break they sang to us, one song as a group and then a solo. As I looked at the scene I was warmed. We had five Roman Catholics, one Presbyterian, three of us from  Churches of Christ, one Baptist and about 10 mormons, but we enjoyed ourselves together in a common cause. 

Lost and found..
Spot the keys?
A few weeks ago I lost a key ring with the Night Shelter keys on it. It was linked to a fancy three-ring key ring I carried, but had disappeared. We hunted night shelter, church, cars and home for these keys. On Saturday as I was connecting a trailer to the car I found these keys sitting in the draw bar! I guess they had dropped sometime when I was unlocking the boot and had stayed there while I had been driving. 
The keys that went AWOL
Walking, talking, big buzz experience...
Just before 2 p.m. I joined with some firefighters at the Cancer Society Relay for Life. There are teams from various groups and businesses, you receive a baton for your team and you keep that baton walking around the track for 24hours. It is an expression of solidarity with those who battle cancer, but also a way of raising funds for the cancer society as they support cancer sufferers. The Fire fighters had entered a team and I joined them. They had already raised $2000 by running a quiz night. I walked for almost four hours. It was so much fun. I was scheduled to walk with another guy, and I imagined him saying, "Oh no do I have to walk with the bloody padre!" When I first met him he had declared himself an athiest. We walked, talked and laughed together for an hour or so. Then another firefighter joined me, then another replaced her. I met other people I knew and chatted with them. Another firefighter's partner often passed us jogging and kidded us, trying to get me to jog with her. The thing that I loved about it was the depth of conversation I had. The first two firefighters had said they were atheists, but we talked about spirituality, values and the deeper things of life. They shared their history and the experiences of life that had shaped them. I felt really privileged. The varied crowd of people, young and old were there to share, in a common cause and they simply had good wholesome fun. I loved every minute of it and was sad to have to come away and do preparation for Sunday. I was given a fire service tee shirt to wear. These younger fire fighters were surprised that I did not have one having been their chaplain for nearly 19 years. I wore it with pride. I enjoy the warmth I receive from my firefighters and so many people I share life with.


Friends...
We had two friends from Australia visit last weekend and we laughed and talked a lot. One is a hospital chaplain, the other a retired police chaplain. It was great to catch up on them and share common interests and similar life experience stories.  I was introducing one of them to another man and my friend said, "Dave and I have had a forty-year friendship." It surprised me, but he was right. Within the Night Shelter Trust I have people I consider friends, we can talk warmly and freely. Even my doctor relaxes and jokes and tells yarns about his past.  We have a friend who is distressed and depressed. We ache for her and wish we could help. We try to express our love and friendship. She is important to us. Tonight I walked with a friend. For nine years we have walked or run together roughly once a week. Last weekend we missed out but today we ambled around the Woodhaugh - Ross Creek walkway and caught up on each other's activities talking flat tack. It is an hour of relaxing warm company that I value. All these friendships, of varying depths help sustain you as a person. They are sacred. I am rich to have these people in my life.