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.
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!