Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

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.