Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Christmas trip.

Theo in Christchurch turns two in February. He stops running around for food.
Pania opening her presents on her 37th birthday - our oldest  child (Angela) and our youngest (Simon) are helping.
Evening sunset in Christchurch. 
We were sent pictures of our Auckland grandson, Stanley, who is about 7 months old. He has had some rough ailments to grow through but is better now.
With his mum, sister Edith and a table their clever dad built them.
On Christmas Eve we traveled up to Christchurch (361Kms. or 225 miles north) in our old van, arriving early evening. We had picked up our foster daughter Pania, who has severe handicaps. Our daughter and her husband also drove up and had rented a house for us near where my son, his wife and son live. You may remember that four years ago Christchurch had a big devastating earthquake. Not long after our arrival on Christmas Eve we were shaken by a size 4 earthquake just to remind us. It was "interesting" enough, but the one four years ago was a size 7 or thereabouts!  On Christmas day we went around to where our son is living and enjoyed a lazy day eating too much and talking. Our grandson Theo is not quite two, but a big boy full of endless energy. The next day we all hung around together once again, followed by a special day on the 27th when our foster daughter turned 37 years of age. It was a great family time chatting, catching up and getting acquainted once again since we live at quite a distance. We skyped with the family in Auckland (Our oldest son, his wife and two children) and also with our son and little boy in Edinburgh. 
Today we drove back home. Our foster daughter is in independent care now and she comes home for visits regularly. Our children have always just accepted her as their sister, though she came to live with us when she was nine years old. Our daughter helps look after her when she comes on such holidays, and also takes some responsibility in her guardianship.  It has been an interesting journey being a father to a child/woman with severe handicaps. She cannot talk. She cannot dress herself. She cannot take herself to the toilet. She can feed herself but the food has to be cut up for her and she makes a mess. She will often make noises and walks slowly with a strange gait.   She has specially built up shoes to compensate for scoliosis in her back which shortens one leg. Often too she dribbles. She is a Rett Syndrome sufferer. Her speciality is her smile and her deep brown eyes which look intently into yours. Lately she seems to make a lot of noise, just vocalising sounds to herself as she moves around. It can be annoying. Today driving out of Christchurch dealing with heaps of traffic on unfamiliar roads, I must confess to getting impatient with this constant noise behind me. We stopped at a cafe about halfway home. While my wife ordered food I guided Pania to a table outside a very crowded restaurant. I was very aware that people were staring. Pania was making her noise, and I was guiding her slowly toward the chair holding her arm. People stared! I have learned to just go about our business and not look at the staring people. But this time Pania stared back at a couple at the table next to us. It was as if she was saying to them, "What are you lookin' at?" I tried again and again to distract her, but was only successful when I quietly sang to her ... something even more odd for those close enough to hear. But once food arrived all was well. Our neighbours had something else to do and we could busy ourselves in our coffee and sandwiches and feeding Pania her sandwiches. Judging by friendly acknowledgements from strangers coming out of the shop and our neighbours at the table next to us, most people are supportive. But you are conscious of their noticing your daughter and your behaviour with her. I am so grateful and proud of my children and their partners. To them she is their sister and treated well.  When my grandson was heading off to bed and running around saying "Night night." to all of us, my daughter in law encouraged him to include "Auntie Pania". He came up to her and said, "Nigh-nigh" and threw her a kiss. To our surprise Pania, who often looks like she is "away with the fairies" (We have learned she is not) looked straight at him with her brown eyes and gently touched and patted his shoulder. It was one of those memorable moments. I love my family and wish we were all closer together to spend more time together. But that is life in today's world.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Merry Christmas... celebrating God among us.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all my readers. This cute New Zealand advert celebrates God being home in New Zealand. It is anthropomorphic theology, but I love the understated Kiwi humour. It is called "Frosty man and the BMX kid."    I love it, it warms this proud kiwi heart each time I look at it. Christmas celebrates "Emmanuel" - "God with us." I do hope for the world at large that 2015 will be much more peaceful, with less tension and warmer relationships in the human family. We belong together. Get used to it. Live it, express and experience the essential unity of humanity.

"Namaste" - "the divine in me acknowledges the divine in you."


Sunday, December 21, 2014

"A f***ked unit!"

The final steps close to the summit of my mountain.
"Steps to heaven" the first of many on my mountain track.
We are enjoying fresh veges from our garden. This is the smallest plot.



"Hello Mountain my old friend"
"The world is buggered!"
I visited a fire station on Friday and we chatted about life. People gave their reaction to the siege in the cafe in Sydney. They also talked about Taliban atrocities in Pakistan with the attack on a school there. They actually got past chiding me about religion being the cause of all the misery in the world. They were talking with real concern and depth. Then the room went quiet as the 5:30 p.m. news on TV began. Heading the news was a family of eight children stabbed to death in Cairns in Australia. Their angst and shock was evident. "Not another one! The world is getting worse!" "The world is a fucked unit Dave! Do something!" "We need the second coming. If I was God I'd visit and take out all the evil buggers!"  Part of this was said in jest, but it was expressed with a sense of desperation and anger.  All I could do was agree and say, "I'm tryin' to make a difference!" On the news tonight there was a story of a young man (early twenties) killed at a twenty-first birthday party in Auckland. It is getting so that nearly every weekend there is a party fatality in NZ!  Good times had by all! - NOT! There is so much sadness.
Jesus can make a difference.
I am at the stage where I dislike "religion" but the more I think about it, following Jesus is so relevant. Now I loathe the concept that Jesus was all about getting to heaven when you die. Understood as ancient, oriental literature, much of it metaphorical, Jesus teaching and actions were about life now. In the context of the injustices of his day, his teaching challenged the values, the systems and practices of his culture and religion. His values are so relevant to the hurting tragic world we face. I am still a follower of Jesus though I feel more and more distant from the "Church" institution. It just so distorts Jesus! 
I love the people, hate what's happening in ministry.
We attend the local church. We enjoy the people there. They are part of our Port Chalmers/ Sawyers Bay community. I love their straight forward friendliness, their humour and their "no airs and graces" outlook on life. We are served by four retired ministers on a roster who take turns to come out from Dunedin and run services. To be honest they most often do a lousy job! I am finding it really hard work sitting through the services, trying to be encouraging and positive. They seldom hit earth anywhere. They use a bunch of religious cliches and they say them in such a way that you feel they do not even believe them. Their theology is 1950's... it is shocking and blasphemous for today. I led a service last week and could see the congregation become alive and it was not my best. But here we have a Church, the representative of Jesus to this community, but the worship, the main activity of the Church does him a great disservice! Yet the community are like my firefighters. They are screaming out for relevant directions, goals and answers to our "fucked" up world. The ministers come and mumble religious tripe.  I was told today that the roster for next years' ministry has been sorted out by one of the ministers. (The "interim moderator" for the Church) There are two opportunities when they would like to use me. Otherwise I will be attending Church, loving the people, but seething at the ministry we receive and the evil being perpetrated in the name of Jesus. I will sit there with my gifts not being utilized. (Though I do notice the people seem to come to me in a pastoral manner talking personal things.)  I feel passionately that Jesus is still so relevant, but his ministers are making him irrelevant and archaic. I am seriously thinking of trying out other churches though I will feel like I am letting the people down.
But there are good people out there!
In November we on the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust realised that we had only two months of funding left, and that there were no grants coming in for some time. In desperation we told the newspapers and advertised our need. I would estimate that in the last three weeks or so there has been more than $20000 come in. Some big donations,($3000) others small ones.($20 the "widows mite") The people of Dunedin have responded, and responded warmly to our call for help. It has been amazing and some of the messages that have come with the cheques etc. are encouraging. One family tonight deposited over a thousand dollars in our account. "Thank you so much for the service you provide!" was their comment when they emailed us!
I took my grandson and wife down to the fire station the other day. These hard talking, often rough spoken fire fighters were delightful hosts.  

So... the world seems fucked up, but there are heaps of ordinary loving people out there doing their best to spread the love! I remain JC's Helper joining them in trying to make a difference.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Minister for today.

Back on deck.
Today at the local Church I led the service. It was an interesting experience because it is the first service I have led since December 29th last year. I had a few weeks' notice so I had checked out the set readings for the day and had been stewing on it for quite awhile. They wanted it to be a family service, with a childrens' part in it. There is one child who comes to Church with her parents and her baby brother. I probably had too many elements in the service, so it went a bit longer than usual. I had done power points, I played You Tube clips of songs and a short film with a children's dramatisation of the Christmas story. The latest technology the locals had used was an overhead projector, so all this technology was quite new to them. I had to take our TV and our stereo system down to the Church and there were many hours spent in preparation.
I was good..
I normally sit in the second back row of the Church and while listening, can see people as the visiting ministers lead. They have their heads down often and are obviously not caught up in worship. But as I led this morning, I noticed people nodding in agreement, smiling and on the edge of their seats listening and thinking. Even though I was nervous (shaking actually) and it was not my best effort, I knew I had grabbed their attention and that they were "with" the whole worship process. I had quite a few very positive comments and my wife, who mixed more after the service, received a lot more positive comments that she was asked to pass on. I am good at this worship leadership. I can do it in a relevant way. I do enjoy unpacking spiritual truth for average people and leading them into an experience of worship that involves their senses and relates to their real life.
But... 
It is stressful and tiring. I went back to my ministry days of little sleep on Saturday nights.  My reaction when I got home was strange. It was like, "Wow! When can I do this again?" It wasn't necessarily the positive comments (nor the pay - I was expecting to do it for nothing but they pay the ministers - quite well?) but more the feeling that "this is my art form". It was the deep joy of creativity. I enjoyed the challenge and knew I did it well.  But then I bounced back to reality and thought, "Nah! It is also hard stressful work and somewhere, some time, if I am theologically honest, I am going to annoy some people's religious sensitivities or sacrifice my own integrity trying not to." So tonight I feel tired and uncertain about what I would say if they asked me to lead worship on a more regular basis than just occasionally fill in.

Friday, December 12, 2014

Beyond comfort zone times three.


We have community paper called "The Star".  For two weeks in a row I had my photo in it. (once on the front cover) Then I had a letter published in the Otago Daily Times. One related to the fact that we did the Christmas Dinner for 25 years, the others were Night Shelter related. Whenever I went into a chaplaincy people passed comments like, "Sick of seeing your face in my paper Father Ted!" (I think it will be in the Star next week too - but don't tell anyone!)  One comment started out quite positive. A paramedic said something like, "You know how Richie McCaw is the face of rugby? - well, for Dunedin you are the face of caring for the poor. It's good. People will look at it and know you are caring again." Then he added, "They will also say - there's that guy who does things for nothing.  What else can we get him to do?" 
On Tuesday one of my mates on the Night Shelter Trust and I had a fifty five minute dialogue session on the radio with a guy who runs a program called "Community or Chaos". I found it fun. A month or so ago three of us were part of a documentary about the Night Shelter on the local TV station. Again I enjoyed the participation. 
If somebody had told me as a boy at school that within the space of a few weeks I would feature on TV, Radio and newspaper, I would have laughed at them. I was a very shy boy/teenager and withdrew from up front stuff. I still am that shy teenager, but now compelled by an inner pull to reach beyond me.

This morning I prepared power point slides for the Church service I am running on Sunday. I took the sound system and computer around to the Church and tried out the technology. ... now I am unhappy with the sermon I have prepared... and a little nervous about Sunday. I have run church services for 40 years, but now I am out of practice and again out of my comfort zone. What a strange journey life is!

Another feature of my work as Chairman of the Night shelter is I am the one who negotiates and deals with staff employment issues. I have spent a life time working by myself with volunteers. Now I find myself an employer... and it too is a bit out of my comfort zone. I am likely sometimes to be too soft. But at other times, when pushed, I could say and do things that break employment law. Again, what a strange journey life is. 

Monday, December 8, 2014

Me being "me".

Staff at a local bank took up a collection for the Night Shelter- $500 
My friend won a prize with this photo of the Iona Church on a hill above Port Chalmers' main street.
The little Sawyers Bay Church. 
The damaged noticeboard - the edging had come off when it was kicked off it's uprights.
Built in a better time...
When we walked into the local Church on Sunday, the lady elder who looks after the place was giving the announcements. They have responsibility for two Church buildings. There is a quaint little timber Church in Sawyers Bay named "Emmanuel". That is the building they are using at the moment. Then there is the granite stone historical Church which overlooks Port Chalmers. It is named "Iona" and has an historical clock. Usually they meet on alternative Sundays in each building, but Iona Church is being restored. The clock, important to Port Chalmers community, is being started again this Sunday. The elder, who does a marvelous job, announced that the noticeboard at Iona had been ripped off its uprights and needed to be repaired. I am sure she looked at me at that point in time? It was interesting....there is an "odd" man who lives in Sawyers Bay. He is quirky. He wears robes, and crosses and a variety of outlandish clothing. He feels like he is a bit of a prophet. His name is Andrew, and he comes to the local Church from time to time. He had noticed that the noticeboard had been kicked down, so with a precious bit of his rope had tied it up again. I got talking to him on Sunday asking how much damage had been done and he seemed a very nice amiable guy, offering to help me fix it.  After Church I went to Mary the elder and offered to repair the noticeboard. We went, picked it up and on Sunday afternoon I repaired it, sanded and repainted the edging. Today we went around and replaced it on its uprights.  I got to look at it and decided that it was a reasonably frail construction. It would have been easy to kick it down, with small nails holding it in place. It was put there, I decided, when the local vandals respected Church buildings and left them alone. I have bolted and screwed it back into place. It will look nice for the dignitaries coming to the start-the-clock ceremony on Sunday. I am tending to become church-handyman and that's OK.
Hopeful trend...
It was communion time on Sunday and they handed around communion, little individual glasses for the wine. It was an embarrassment for those who prepared because there were not enough glasses for the number attending. They were used to smaller numbers coming to church. We are pleased because even though it is a small church, there does seem to be more consistent attendance, and there is a warm feeling, laughter, support and care expressed among the small group. I am lined up to lead the service next Sunday. I have been asked to include children (there are two in the one family) in the service. It will be the second time I have preached this year and the first service I have led. I checked with one man about hymn tunes I have chosen to use.  I said, "I'm on deck next week." "Yes" he replied, "I was so pleased to hear that. You have the right sort of charisma to be doing that!" .... I told them, "It will be different! It may be the first and last time you ask me." A younger woman said to my wife, "Don't let them talk him into doing it all the time. He is meant to be retired!" I'll report on how it goes... I will have to be all ready, prepared and gadgets in place by 10 a.m. We have got used to leaving home two minutes before Church and arriving on time. I'll need to get back into that busy Sunday morning mode this weekend.
Night Shelter AGM.
We had our Night Shelter Trust Annual General Meeting. I had to write a report, and run the meeting. I was re-elected chairman again. I was a bit reluctant. The deputy chair who ran that part of the meeting described the job as "relentless" and he is right. We are raising funds to purchase the building - we needed to go public and ask for people to donate for operational costs, it looked like we were going to run out - the manager is off with "Post Traumatic Stress disorder" because of a nasty incident at the shelter - I have to negotiate what leave he can have on what pay... and we are not flushed with funds - but the people of Dunedin are stepping up and supporting us - we need to thank them - but there is trouble at Phoenix lodge and we have to sort it out- there are funding applications I need to be doing... etc. etc.  I have lost sleep worrying about it all. Every day there are phone calls and emails to respond to, meetings to attend and things to do. I am out of my comfort zone and busy, it does not feel like I am retired - I just don't get paid for it. I am keen to hang in there with the Night Shelter Trust at least until we own the building. 
Christmas Day dinner.
There is a charitable Trust who has taken over the running of Dunedin's community Christmas Day dinner.  We organised our last one last year after running it for 25 years. This group are doing it in the town hall. They look like they have a great line up of sponsors and donors. They are hoping for greater numbers than ours had, and the mayor is attending theirs.  They graciously touched base with me the other day, and included me in a photo in the newspaper. They want to carry on the "spirit" of what we did.  I have a mixture of feelings. I will probably be a bit jealous if theirs is more successful than ours was. I should not be, but it is a human reaction. - Some of their sponsors we had asked for help, but they had refused us. I guess because we were running it in a Church. - I got to thinking that I will miss having Christmas with some of our old friends, the street characters of Dunedin. - I will miss the busyness, the wave of generosity of people, the volunteers. - Then I am concerned about some aspects of their plans, but is my concern genuine, or is it just because they've seen a better way to do things?  I hope they have a great day. It will go well, they must do it in a way they are comfortable with and theirs' will evolve just like ours did. I am thrilled it is not dying out. On the day I guess I will feel strange just having family around but that too will be a special treat - they have missed out on attention for years.
On my facebook timeline I shared two thoughts.... both seem relevant .. somehow?


Monday, December 1, 2014

Bureaucratic bull crap!




"Light no fires." When I was a boy we would go on a family picnic mostly on a Sunday afternoon. We would arrive at the picnic spot. (Often Warrington Beach - north of Dunedin.) Dad would get the picnic gear out. A couple of old blankets on the grass to sit on. A ball, bat and two boxes to play cricket with. At one stage dad and mum had folding deck chairs, but after one collapsed and injured mum's finger badly these were left behind. But the most exciting thing was the Thermette. Pictured above these gadgets could boil water for a cup of tea in very quick time. Us kids would be sent out to gather twigs, bark and anything that would burn and fit down the hole. We would bring these back and Dad would set the thermette up and time how long it took to boil the water. As we got older we were allowed to set it up, light it and boil the water. After the cup of tea Dad would send us to get water and he would soak the burnt wood to ensure it was really extinguished and cold, then scrape dirt or sand over it. They were amazing gadgets. Dad told of the Kiwi troops carrying them during the war and boiling them in the desert with an old tin lid full of petrol.  I still have one. But everywhere you go there are now signs banning fires! The simple fun of heating water in this primitive way is not a joy my grandkids will experience. In wet green NZ the PC bureaucrats have put "Light no fires" at every possible picnic spot.
"Volunteers cannot build." I have coffee regularly with a friend I met through Habitat for Humanity. We began our regular coffee meetings because we led Habitat for Humanity builds every Saturday. We would meet in my office on a Friday morning and plan the next day's build.  He was a carpenter and most often was the only qualified carpenter on site. We built thirteen houses together using volunteers. Men, women, children, old and young - we had amazing fun days doing great things building houses. Recently he attended the local Habitat for Humanity Annual General meeting. He told me that now, because of recent more stringent building regulations, the local Habitat for Humanity does not use volunteers. The rules have got too challenging and many jobs can only be done by registered, qualified people. Again - bureaucratic bullshit! 
"We cannot give out spare food." For 25 years we ran a Community Christmas Dinner in our Church at St Andrew Street. We used volunteers to peel and prepare the vegetables, carve the meat, dish up the food, cream the pavlovas and prepare deserts. At the end of the meal we handed out ice cream containers with all the spare food in them to our guests to take home. To my knowledge nobody got food poisoning in 25 years! This year another group is doing it and they are using the town hall facilities. The leader of this group phoned me last night to pick my brain about stuff. They are using volunteer staff from the facility's caterers to do the cooking. They can only use volunteers with food handling certificates to plate up and serve the food! They are not allowed to give excess food away unless it can be guaranteed to be consumed on the same day! It is the rules of the facility. The spirit and giving fun of Christmas is beaten down by bureaucratic bullshit!
I could go on. Charities are having to pay big bucks to get the correct person to audit their accounts. Rules are stifling enterprises. Rules stop people caring for others in naturally compassionate ways. It is, in my view, one of the evils of our society. We end up with limited lives because we depend on "specialists" to do everything. The poor cannot fend for themselves. The "do it yourself" mentality is being squeezed out of us because of this sort of bureaucratic garbage. I proudly break the rules!

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

"Give me some men who are stout hearted men..."

I watched a rugby Test
Lately I have been very worried and stressed out about the Night Shelter. My wife has been keen to visit my family members in beautiful Central Otago, so insisted that a trip away from Dunedin would do me good. We drove into Central on Saturday morning and drove home again via a different route on Monday morning.  We had Saturday evening meal with my two Central Otago brothers and their wives in Cromwell. It was the first time we had spent decent time together this year.  We stayed at my brother's lifestyle block near Alexandra and on Sunday morning I got to watch the final All Black Rugby test for the year.  They were playing the Welsh team, and my brother and I got up early to watch the game. (They have Sky TV - something we do not have.)  It certainly is a nice part of the country and I enjoyed the company, the scenery and the break.
The Clyde Dam and surrounding hills in Central Otago.
An historic country store.
Richie McCaw heroic NZ All Black rugby legend. 
This is retirement?
I am chairman of the local Night Shelter Trust. It is hard going at the moment. There are always issues just in the day to day running of the shelter. It is really the nature of the beast, the people we deal with and the agencies we relate to.  We have also got a further project called Phoenix lodge where ex-prisoners have guided accommodation as they restart their lives. We are trying to run both on a shoestring budget. We have to rely on grants we apply for and people who donate funds. We are also in the midst of trying to raise a big amount of money to purchase our buildings. There is endless work with that and a deadline of next October to have at least $595,000 in the building purchase account. But the latest issue to emerge recently is that because of the timing of grant applications we could have a cash flow problem over the Christmas/ New Year period. We will have to pay rent and staff wages and it looks like in a couple of months we could be $12000 short before new funds come in.  I came back from my overseas trip looking forward to retirement. In my mind I looked forward to gardening, walking, biking, maybe some rock fishing and doing some free time stuff as well as have this Night Shelter Trust responsibility and the few hours of chaplaincy I have each week. It is not turning out that way. The work component of my life is all consuming.  It is not just the work involved, but the stress. I am out of my comfort zone. There are so many uncertainties. I find myself awake at night stressing out about the problems. This is not retirement as I thought it would be! I had envisaged a time when I could get enough exercise, more balance and fewer stressors so that I could get on top of my blood pressure issues! Even as I type this there are emails coming in from Trustees with opinions and "things we should do".
Give it up!
At a meeting we had with an ex mayor recently he said, "If it is not fun,... if you are out of your comfort zone.. if you feel like it's a duty then you should not be doing it!" ... I grinned and under my breath said, "Well that's me out!" When this latest crisis emerged I really felt like giving up. I had asked about the issue a month earlier because I can read the numbers, but had received assurances that it would be OK. Now, however, I am stressed to the max trying to muster funds for the shelter to survive.  The other day I found myself saying, "I can't do this! I'm going to give up!" ... But I do not see a queue of people to pass the ball to?
Two encouraging messages...
I got up at 3 a.m. the other night stewing about the Night Shelter predicament. It is a bad look running out of money! My ever patient wife made a hot drink and offered comforting words. "We have had 40 odd years of ministry with all sorts of projects. You have helped establish Habitat for Humanity in Dunedin, building thirteen houses. We did twenty five Christmas Day dinners... You will work your way through this too!" My Night Shelter mate John in an email reminded us of the saying.. "When the going gets tough, the tough get going!"  Then I read about Richie McCaw the current All Black captain. He is captain of the All Black rugby team. He has just played his 100th test as captain. I know rugby is not known throughout the world, but in anyone's book he is a top world class athlete and leader. But after a defeat of his team in his 23rd game as captain that put New Zealand out of the World Cup, he nearly gave up. Here is a report about that time...


"I questioned whether I was good enough to do it or the right person to do it," he said this week, reflecting on a low point of his stellar career.
Confiding with his parents was followed by a period of soul-searching as the fallout from the tournament swirled around him.
Finally came the realisation he would have a lifetime of regret if he walked away from the job.
"You can either man up and get on with it or drift away and remember that experience as one you couldn't handle," he told NZ Newswire.

In the past when it got tough to do stuff I have dug deep and continued. I have persevered when others flagged. I have decided to do that once again with the night shelter.
The second message came as I was flicking through some films I have stored on my computer. I have Barbara Streisand singing, "Give me some men who are stout hearted men, who will fight for the right they adore. Start me with ten who are stout hearted men, and I'll soon give you ten thousand more." We used to sing that at secondary school assemblies. It is the whole concept of a team working together for a good purpose. I am part of that. I love being part of the Night Shelter Trust team.  I have enjoyed friendship there as together we have tackled issues. More than that, we are starting to see the people of the city take ownership of the Night Shelter. There are groups and individuals wanting to do things to help finance us or support us in some way, and a part of the stress of my job as chairman has been actually finding ways to fit people in.  I will continue because I am part of a team of very special people. It is not retirement as I envisaged it, but that time will come. Just now the Night Shelter needs any help it can get, even from average me.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Beware the impact of shallow thinking greed.

When I grew up things were repaired. Our shoes were taken to the cobbler and new soles were stuck on to them, or sometimes the stitching was repaired. As teenagers we learned how to repair our cars. I reconditioned many engines over the years. I have renewed wires in electric motors, cleaned up  commutators and brushes on vacuums, starter motors and generators. But these days we accept the limited lifespan of appliances and the things we buy. Instead of repairing we just purchase new things. Well I still like to repair and recycle where I can. It may seem stupid, but it is my way or rebelling against consumerism, and saving at least some expenses. In the last twenty four hours I have repaired a coffee machine, a door latch and a wallet at no cost. 
The latch on my garden tool shed rusted out. I had this one I rescued from rubbish being discarded and using recycled screws repaired the door. 
When the plastic hinge broke on the coffee machine, three recycled screws and a bit of recycled dowel made it stronger than the original.
A new wallet does not cost much, but a bit of cotton and five minutes of spare time costs even less. This wallet has been repaired twice. 
Centre of town mayhem...
The centre of our city is an area called the Octagon. It is an octagon shaped grassed area surrounded by a road and buildings. There is a Cathedral, a film theatre, the Art gallery and the Town Hall. Many of the other buildings house pubs, clubs, places where people go to party or to have a quiet drink from time to time. Often it is a fine, picturesque place to walk through, and indeed I have enjoyed a quiet drink in the local bars. But in recent times it has gathered a bad reputation. On Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights, late at night or in the early hours of the morning it has gained a reputation as an unsafe place where drunkenness, disorder and violence happens. I have talked to emergency service workers, a man who worked in the twenty-four hour store there and Maori wardens who patrol the area, and have heard of the messiness, the sadness and the violence. The city council have been trying to introduce some bylaws moderating the sale of alcohol, trying to bring a semblance of safety and pleasantness back to the area. The people running the businesses are crying "unfair"! It seems it doesn't matter to them who gets hurt, what happens to our city reputation nor the cost to emergency services and others, so long as they can sell their liquor! They plead that the suggested changes are interfering with economic success, that the naysayers are "anti-business". In feels like they are saying the economic "god" of business and money is being blasphemed against. "How dare you! - That is unforgivable."  In my view, when that economic god takes precedence over the well-being of humans and a community it must be challenged! Greed, hiding behind the desire for business success, can be a destructive force in our society.
Pigs and their owners squeal 
When a New Zealand celebrity, who once was used in advertising pork, was invited to inspect the way pig farmers raised the pork and bacon we enjoy, he exposed it on national TV. We were exposed to sad, disgusting and cruel practices in our pork industry. Such was the exposure that the Government was forced to look into it and signal changes. The pig farmers squealed.... well...  like stuck pigs! It does not seem to matter to them that most fair minded New Zealanders were offended by their practices, that pigs were living terrible lives before being butchered, the god of profitability at any cost was once more blasphemed against! "How dare they question the right to make big profits?"  It is the same when people question the plight of battery hens. The poultry industry clucks madly about offensive criticism. I have bought battery hens when the farmers discard them. They are poor, featherless, unhealthy, creatures who cannot stand or perch, who are scared of sunlight. It is cruel, and the economic god deserves to be challenged.
Depending on fossil fuels damages our planet!
Something like 98% of climate change scientists are convinced that the way humans rely on burning fossil fuel for energy is damaging our planet! There are more and more people who challenge the oil barons and encourage exploring other forms of energy. They try to discourage further spread of fossil fuel burning. The economic god once again is being challenged. The oil companies spend thousands trying to discredit and challenge the truth. They plead the economic benefits of fossil fuel exploration, discounting all the risks involved. If the money poured into exploration for fossil fuels was put into developing alternatives, the planet would be better off. But greed, and big business, does not care about the consequences for the planet and its people. Once again in the name of the god "economics" they put their heads in the sand and do anything to make their money by destroying the planet! It becomes even more scary when they seem to have politicians in their pocket, worshipping the same god!  Many people are exploring solar power, or wind generation. People are creating systems for their own households. They are generating energy in cost effective ways that do not hurt the planet. But they find there are forces lined up against them. In some countries the power company still charges them for the power they are generating. The companies are missing out on revenue. How dare they generate power outside of the "system"? So there are systems in place to discourage it, to still make them pay. In some places people who have generated their own power have gone to prison because they did not connect to the power company controlled "grid".   Beware of big business worshipping the economic god at any cost.  Beware of governments linking with such big businesses and endorsing the destructive greed in the name of economics. 

There are many other examples where people, community, the environment, or animal life are sacrificed to the god of economics, and "respectable" destructive greed has its wicked way.  Human wholeness is bigger than riches. The writer of 1st Timothy expressed a truth when he wrote; "For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil."

Sunday, November 9, 2014

"Some people don't like us!"- wake up church leaders!

A cartoon church leaders ignore at their peril.

I was at a meeting with an ex-mayor of our city. We were picking his brains about fund raising for our plan to purchase the Night Shelter buildings.  He offered to go with us to meet with likely people that he may know, but with a twinkle in his eye he said, "Mind you there are some people who do not like me!" 
I thought that was an honest and mature statement. It is true for me and I guess for all of us. There are always going to be some people who do not like us, and we ought not to get too hung up about it, but at the same time be aware of the reality.

There are people who do not like the Church.
There was a telling cartoon in the local Otago Daily Times the other day. There are two guys in a pub, and one is reading a newspaper. The heading on the paper reads, "CHURCH'S MIRACLE POTION UNDER FIRE."  The heading relates to a news story about a group calling itself a church which is selling a bleach based potion that is meant to be a cure-all, but in fact could do harm. In the cartoon the newspaper reader looks at his mate and says, "It's something bogus that can do more harm than good." His mate replies... "And it's taken them 2000 years to get it into a bottle?" - it is an obvious dig at the Church... It is the cartoonist way of saying that the "Church's (- not just the group selling the potion -) message (influence, presence,) is "bogus" and that it does "more harm than good." 
I do not think enough Church leaders realise that there are lots of people out there who do not like the Church and it's message! I think many church leaders think that the people "out there" just think (erroneously of course) that the Church and its message is irrelevant. That is true. I think they still think that most people have a benign attitude toward the church. That is not as true as it used to be. Church people say things like, "There are no athiests in a foxhole under fire." and think that somehow the population will return to the church if only we jazzed it up a bit or when things got really tough for them.   Churches just keep on saying the same things and doing the "same old" as if it does not really matter. Let me repeat my point - if you are a Church leader - at least in New Zealand - there are more and more people who not only think we - the Church - is irrelevant, but that we are harmful. People see the church and its message as negative and life limiting. They see the church as part of the "establishment" which contributes to injustice, division and prejudice.  For God's sake church leaders - WAKE UP! You cannot keep doing "the same old" if you really believe what you prattle about. I spend most of my time among non-church people and this is the message I get. They may accept me, but they do not accept "Church" the body I represent as a chaplain, and they love to get a dig at it.  One of my firemen recently reposted something I said on facebook. "This man is a minister, and surprisingly quite a nice bloke!" Amongst his friends obviously, ministers are not "nice blokes". They are for them part of the problem in society, often seen as bogus, unreal hypocrites. ( I need to say that this guy is a thinking guy, not superficial in any way.) 

My wife and I were discussing the sermon we heard today and the calibre of sermon we are hearing from visiting clergy in our local church. Today's preacher is the best of a not too good selection. But the presentations just depict Christianity as irrelevant! They do not hit the real world. My wife said, "I guess he's harmless." and then went on to say that one of the others had an actual harmful concept of God. Then we changed our minds... presenting the notion of the sacred mystery in life and the values of Jesus in an irrelevant way is harmful. .... very harmful. Leaders - take seriously your calling! There are people out there who do not like us and actively dislike us. 
The Church today needs to earn its credibility. Talk does not cut it any more!  When the Church does talk it needs to "be real" for the twenty-first century humans. People should not have to leave their brains, their personalities or their moral compass at the door when they come to church.

Sunday, November 2, 2014

They saw me coming...

The lounge in the Night Shelter. 
The Dunedin Night Shelter. (we so want to buy these buildings)
Phoenix Lodge - medium term accommodation. 
An old steam train ran excursions over Labour Weekend locally. 
I treated myself to a nostalgic visit to take some pics.

I love the sight and sounds of a steam train... a big pollutant though.
To ensure I do not burn up too much fossil fuel and to keep some retirement time for me, I have been trying to make a rule that I do not go into town on Mondays and Wednesdays. It has been a dismal failure and my diary for the week ahead informs me that I will not succeed this week either. Last Wednesday we wanted to spend a big part of the day in the garden. We wanted to make a trip to town though, to buy some plants and I needed to take some photographs at the Night Shelter.  It was to be a quick visit to town, and then back into our garden. It did not work out that way.
Just as we were preparing to leave, my brother visiting town from Melbourne, Australia, phoned me.  After a short conversation we arranged to have lunch with him and his wife, no other day suited.  Then as we began to drive down the street, Keith, a Night Shelter Trust colleague rang. He had completed his part of a project and we made a plan to meet at the shelter so he could pass it on.  All was well, with these two positive extras our visit to town would be only slightly longer than we had planned.
"Can you help us?" times two.
I arrived at the shelter and proceeded to take the photographs I needed. One of the guys from Phoenix lodge, (the medium term accommodation place out the back of the shelter) came home, leaving a friend of his sitting opposite. I saw that this friend was taking a real interest in what I was doing and was coming closer. The Phoenix guy, who I had met twice before, reappeared and I noticed them on the other side of the road conversing together and looking at my van. Eventually he came over and knocked on the shelter door. We greeted each other and then he questioned me. "You work here don't you?" he said. "Well I spend a lot of time here." I replied. "Is that your van out there?"he continued.  "Yes that is my beat up van." I responded. "Well it is like this." ... and I love this part, "I just paid for two bookcases for my sister at the hospice shop, but we need to pick them up and move them to her new flat in Caversham. You wouldn't know anyone who could do that for us would you?" By this time his sister, who looked like a man, had joined him. "Well I couldn't do it today." I said - I can take a hint. "But we need to pick them up today?" they pleaded. I looked at these two. Both had tattoos all over their faces and arms, and I felt sorry for them.  I knew he was recently released from prison. They were both "the forgotten people" of our society and our economic system. Most people would not give them the time of day, though every contact I had with him had been pleasant. "Ok" I said, "I have to go to lunch with my brother in a few minutes, but after lunch, at 2:30 we will come back, pick you up and we will go and get them." When I got into the van, my wife who had been watching from the van, rolled her eyes and said, "You are going to move something for them aren't you?"  She knows that I am the softest touch in town. We went to lunch and talked too long, so that it was past 2:30 by the time I picked them up. I took them to the hospice shop, we loaded up the bookcases and I delivered them to the sister's new lodgings. I have seldom heard so many expressions of "thank you."  They even offered "$5 next benefit day." I refused that, but knew that they were really appreciative.
On our way to buy our plants, we were stopped outside a second hand shop while waiting for the lights at an intersection. My wife looking at the furniture on display, decided we needed to come back and look at a certain chair. So after buying our plants we returned to the shop and negotiated the purchase of the chair. While loading it into the van, I recognised a couple walking along the footpath. I knew them because of past contact and I knew that they were poor.  I greeted them as they walked by and the wife came up to me and pretty soon got to the point of her visit. They were running late for a bus to go to a certain place where they had a cleaning job to do.  Would we, by any chance, "be going in that direction?"  - It was not really where we were headed but I said, "OK, hop in, we'll give you a lift." Once again, my wife rolled her eyes and cleared the stuff off the back seat of the van.
There is a saying in NZ often used when somebody takes advantage of another. "Well, they saw you coming, didn't they?" Why did I mess up my day helping these two couples? At the fire station I was part of a conversation where firefighters were laughing about the characteristics of some of their colleagues. "We are all different!" I commented wanting to bring some balance, "We can't all be perfect."  "You know what happened to the last perfect man!" somebody chided, "He got crucified!"  The man sitting next to me said, "There's a lesson in that for you Dave. - If you spend your time helping others they are still going to crucify you. Why do it?"  
Why do I help such as these? Why do I spend my time helping the homeless, when one of their number kicks the shelter door in, and another abuses our manager?  My fire fighters and others often chide me saying I need to be more selfish. "They saw you coming!" is a phrase I often hear from them, with the implication that I am too easily taken for a ride. They have said this about such things as the Christmas Day dinner we hosted for 25 years; or Habitat for Humanity projects; the drop in centre; the Night Shelter and other things I have done.  Why do I do it? 
Connection, community and solidarity.
There is a massive and growing gap between the rich and the poor in our country. (and other countries) I am not that rich, but these people are poorer than I am. They are at the bottom end, with little hope of climbing any further up. Life is so difficult for them that they often adopt unacceptable coping mechanisms just to survive. They are treated not just as poor, but often it is assumed they are bad, or weak. They see themselves as inferior, even though they may come across as bombastic and tough.  I reach out to them when I can, and when I deem it wise, so that for a time the gap is bridged.  These people who cannot afford the transport I have, can have for a short time the benefit of having a vehicle. I go out of my way because it reminds them that they are not totally forgotten, that somebody, at least for a short time, shares their journey in life. It is a way of linking arms and saying, "We are in this journey of life together. You are my brother or sister." - I happen to think these sorts of actions make a difference in our community. I might get "crucified", or used and abused, but at least I tried to express the essential unity of humanity.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

"Not too bad for an old man."

Who is that old grey haired man looking into the distance?
(At Oban Scotland) 
Coming toward the end of the pathway of life. (At Oban)
When people ask me the question, "How are you?" one of my stock phrases which I use too often is, "Not too bad for an old man!" I want to share two interesting aspects about getting old. 
You have to stop living life in the future.
I am reading a novel, a bit of a contrived novel because it is written by the New Testament scholar, Marcus Borg. It really is a theology book in novel form.... quite a good effort. One of the characters is talking about his life. "Turning fifty was no big deal - I was becoming established... writing books...being noticed.... But the approach of sixty is different. When I was growing up sixty was old - it really was. ..... I think I have lived my life in the future - that goes with ambition, you know. Fulfillment is in the future - life will be good when I've made a name for myself .... But what's the future when you're getting close to sixty? It seems to me that sixty and older is about decline." (Putting Away Childish Things - Marcus Borg.) At sixty six I can identify with that. I can no longer run as I used to. When I do I am slow and ungainly.. I will never have that feeling of floating over the surface, the exhilaration of it all again. I still enjoy a sex life but my orgasm is a whimper compared to what used to happen and it takes me all night to do what I used to do all night.... I will never regain that sexual power and passion I once had... the best of my sex life is over. I ran a Church and there was always the possibility of new people, new programs, a great sermon ... always a future dream... now I sit in the back pew listening to lousy preaching. I had new jobs and new dreams but what is there to look forward to at sixty six?  When I lay my head down on the pillow to go to sleep I will often purposely think of something positive in the future as my last thought before I drift off. I am used to thinking of such things as the creative opportunities in a service I am planning; a half marathon I am working towards; a special night off with my wife; a project at Church I can look forward to with its possibilities or some other positive future possibility.  Lately with my wheezy chest, the natural decline and uncertainty of health and the ongoing, seemingly endless challenges of night shelter "stuff", I find it more difficult to find positive thoughts to go to sleep with. "The future" seems cloudy, short and uncertain.  The character in the book says he was learning to live in the present and to enjoy the present. I am not sure that it's the total answer, I still think it is good to dream and plan, but it is an issue. As you age your future dreams are limited by decline and limited time. You have to change your "reason for being" somewhat. I have a new admiration for people I know or have known who face adversity and the decline of abilities with fortitude and cheerfulness. I often think to myself, "What on earth can they look forward to? Yet they remain positive." Please God let me learn that skill.
Accumulated grief...
One other thing about getting older is that you have accumulated grief. Lots of people you have known have died. Lots of people who have been in your life have moved on, physically to other places or for a number of reasons, friendships or closeness you once had have ceased or changed.  I was in the brewery where I am chaplain the other day and walked passed the door I used to turn into to see a friend. He died just a little over a year ago. This day, as I often do, I felt a tinge of sadness at the remembrance of him. "I would no longer have those conversations" hit me with a new sadness. Down the street I bumped into a man who is a church elder in the church I recently retired from. We had shared a lot together over the years I was there. He was the one I had worked most closely with. I love him.  I talked with him in the street and he told of working hard in the Church that still has not really replaced me.  The Church and its work was top most in his thoughts, but it was the last thing I wanted to talk about. Our friendship has changed! We are drifting apart. We are not part of each others' lives any more... and that is sad. It is a bereavement.  I drive around areas of town and I see the houses of people who were dear to me in my life. They have died and others live there now. I feel sad, they were part of my life but are no longer there. The older you get the more sadness, the more "goodbyes" you have said, the more changes you have been through, the more often you have experienced grief. Somehow we carry a certain load of accumulated grief. It is not life destroying, but it is something I never realised when I was a young person wondering why older people often stayed silent and looked into the distance.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Godless Morality

I have been reading Richard Holloway. He was Bishop of Edinburgh in the Scottish Episcopal Church, but he resigned that position in 2000. He now calls himself an "after-religionist".  A friend of mine is quite a fan of his and I was to have coffee with him, so I "Googled" Richard Holloway and found lectures, interviews and talks he had done.  I am now reading and enjoying a book of his. After a 1998 Lambeth Conference where the issue of gay priests/marriage etc. was debated, he wrote a book entitled "Godless Morality". I have not read the book but have listened to him talking about it. He had been shocked and shaken by the hatred generated in the Church debates and decided that various people trumping arguments by saying, "God says..." and giving their interpretation of the scriptures was problematic. He proposed that we can discuss morality in a human way without using "God".  This book caused shock waves in his Church and the reaction was such that he decided to resign. He is an entertaining and thought provoking speaker, thinker and writer. 
As I sat in Church a couple of Sundays ago listening to, in my arrogant opinion, a poorly presented and prepared sermon, the preacher quoted a text that got me thinking about Richard Holloway's position. It was Mark 2: 27. There is a debate and criticism of Jesus because he and his disciples had not kept some rules about what is permissible on the sabbath. ("God says!") The conclusion of Jesus' answer goes like this, "The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath." As I sat in Church reflecting on that, distracted from the sermon, I thought, "That is essentially what Richard Holloway is saying!"  He is saying in a sense "If it expresses mercy (compassion) and is something good for humans it is OK and 'of God', whatever the religious rules and institutions say." We are freed from hide bound, and sometimes time bound religious "rights and wrongs" to do our own thinking, guided by compassion - that which is good for humankind, for fulfillment and fulness of life. In the same debate reported in Matthew's Gospel part of Jesus' answer is "I desire mercy and not sacrifice". It confirmed to me that the spirit of Holloway's thinking is in line with the spirit of Jesus' teaching. Both are religious rebels in their time. 
The Dave Andrews quote that I have on my blog page is relevant...

"The essence of being a devotee of Jesus is to live in sympathy with God as Jesus did; feeling the throb of God's heartbeat, and teaching our hearts to learn to beat in sync with the love that sustains the universe.
It means developing our capacity to sense intuitively what causes love pleasure, and what causes love pain, and doing everything we can to enhance the pleasure, and diminish the pain."

A good sermon.. good people who "own" their Church.
Yesterday the visiting preacher at our little local Church was a retired pacific island minister, for whom English was not his first language. He read his sermon, but it was well thought out and delivered with passion. He talked about "the priesthood of all believers" as being central to the reformation of the Church. Us being servants of one another in our Churches and communities. I have been critical of the preachers visiting us, but yesterday I enjoyed his presentation and passion. After Church they have a cup of tea and most often some home baking. The person appointed for that day works shift work so couldn't attend, but she had forgotten to arrange a stand in. There was no milk and nothing to eat. Within a flash three older women, without consulting, had dashed home, procured milk and raided their baking and biscuits and with much laughter and good humour, we were generously catered for. I thought that was great, not that it would have hurt us to go without. It showed their sense of responsibility toward each other. There is a good "feel" of down to earth friendship amongst the small group. They are small in number, mostly elderly but they are "alive". I keep thinking, Jesus changed history with just twelve people.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Still journeying...

My companions on the journey.
It has been a while...
There has been quite a gap between posts. I perhaps post too often but that is not the reason I have not posted. I have been distracted. I have come back and found that being chairman of the Night Shelter has got busy.  I came back hoping to have time to walk, to garden and to do things I have not been able to do when I was not retired. But I am finding that between the chaplaincies I do and Night Shelter events my dreams to do all these things  have gone by the board. I find too that the night shelter work is stress producing. Amongst the staff and the members of the board there are a variety of view points on various subjects. I find too that people often do not share their view points in a way that is open to discussion. They often share their perspective like it is the truth, the final truth and there is no room for discussion on it. I hear these view points and have at times been lying in bed in the early hours of the morning wondering how we are going to tie it all together. The other thing I have found is that many little things get tossed my way...in the early hours of the morning I suddenly think of an email I haven't sent, or a phone call I need to make and stew on how to get it all done. I keep saying "it will ease off", and I certainly hope it does. I decided that I will let everyone know that Mondays, Wednesdays and Saturdays are my time, off limits, except in real emergencies. I need to admit too, that just recently the busyness and the endless number of issues has been getting me down a bit... I am susceptible to depression, and I have been feeling down about it, even though there are positives. I will cope though, generally at such times I just dig in and work my way through it. (often eating too much as one of my stress relief outlets.)  
Church...
We have been attending the local Presbyterian Church. I enjoy going to the local church and being involved with local people. They have accepted us and now we joke, have meaningful conversations and feel part of the group. Visiting clergy lead the services but I have to say the standard is very low! If most of these had trained at the college I attended they would have been guided toward a different vocation.... at least as far as preaching/worship leadership is concerned... they may be wonderful pastors. I was asked to read scripture in the service yesterday and I did so, making sure I gave a couple of sentences of introduction. It was the first up front thing I had done and even though it is little enough, I was pleased I did it well.  But yesterday's sermon I disliked. It was something a poorly presenting layman might preach in the 1950s. From my point of view it was blasphemous, an insult to God and scripture. The guy promised we would be barred from heaven if we didn't believe as he described. At that point the nasty streak in my mind said, "That's OK if you and the God you depict are there I'm not sure I want to go there!" (Christianity is NOT about getting to heaven anyway!) Of course I did not say it out loud. I felt like standing up and saying, "This is poorly presented bullshit!" and walking out... but I didn't. One of the women who complimented me on my part asked if I was on the list of preachers, and why not? I am left asking myself, "Do I want to preach? Do I want to be tied down to responsibility?" But then again how long can I sit and listen to "poorly presented bullshit"?
Having said that during the week before my negative reaction to a couple of things in the service sparked me into thinking, "What do I now think about that?" I am doing some scribbling and may blog soon about these two topics. 
Books mark a journey....
At a certain stage on Saturday it rained and it looked like it was going to set in. I decided to do an inside job. I decided to throw out books. Some time ago I went through my books and threw some out, donating them to a local 24 hour book sale. It was time to do it again, so I attacked the bookshelves in my study and in another store room. I threw out some books I did not need because I am no longer in Church ministry... books about Church growth, Church organisation and theology of the Church. I threw out Bible Studies for groups and some books about worship. I threw out books that I no longer thought were relevant. You get to look back on some themes that you once got interested in, and now you decide "I don't think that's important any more!" There are dated books relating to certain historical situations say in the 1970's, but the world has moved on. I threw out a lot of books that contained stuff I no longer believe in. (a bit like Sunday's sermon) But in the process I discovered books that had been so meaningful to me, had inspired me, changed me or brought a great leap in my growth as a person. These I lovingly replaced in the shelves closest to my desk. They, or at least their authors, are my precious companions. It was an interesting exercise. It marked a stage in my life - retirement. It showed how I had changed and grown gradually over the years. And it made me appreciate again the writers who share their journey with us.