Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Saturday, January 31, 2015

Grow up New Zealand!

Immature insecurity.
Often immediately after I have led a service the very first thing I say to my wife is, "Was that alright?" She knows what I mean. I am asking, "Did I make a fool of myself?" Sometimes even after she has answered in the affirmative I will keep on asking her well into the afternoon.  "Was what I did this morning OK?" She will get impatient. "What have I already told you? - Didn't you hear the people's feedback?" You see, it is just that I am insecure. I wonder if I truly communicated? I wonder if I said anything too way-out?  Did I sound dumb?  I fish for approval and acceptance like an insecure teenager.
We New Zealanders are insecure like that about our country. A celebrity such as a movie star, or singer arrives in Auckland and a reporter meets them later that day. "What's your impression of New Zealand?" Celebrities often visit Queenstown and central Otago, tourist areas nearby, and pass through Dunedin. The newspaper reporter searches for affirming comments about our locality. Then writes it up, "Famous celebrity loves our city". It is like we have to search for approval and acceptance.  There is a Rugby League nines competition happening in Auckland. There are lots of Australian teams participating, along with their fans. Like insecure teenagers reporters are asking these Aussies how they like Auckland, or New Zealand. Searching for approval.  Grow up! We do not have to be better than anywhere else. We need not compare ourselves. We are simply New Zealand. Some things are beautiful. Somethings are disadvantages. But simply - this is who we are. Learn what the celebrity does. Learn how they think. Learn about what made them who they are. But we should not have to need to search for them to say nice things about us. Often the nice things they say come across as patronising dribble anyway! Grow up.
Its OK to be criticised.
Eleanor Catton is an award winning New Zealand writer. Media have reported that when she has been visiting places overseas she has expressed criticism of New Zealand politics and aspects of New Zealand culture.  She said of the government that it was "neo-liberal, profit-obsessed" and with culture-averse politicians. She criticised our appetite for "tall poppy syndrome" and the lack of respect for Kiwi writers.  A radio host was outraged. . he questioned how the author could criticise New Zealand when she had a taxpayer-funded job as a lecturer.  She was dismissed as a traitor.  The prime minister John Key, when told about it, dismissed her saying "she should stick to writing."   He tends to do that when people express disagreement. He resorts to depreciating the person, not dealing with the issues.  The trouble is the superficial public buy into this sort of quick, shallow gibe.  These reactions tend to indicate that she is right with her criticisms. It is right and good that we as a culture should be criticised. We are not and never will be perfect and we should value our critics rather than dismiss them.  Again we are exposed as immature and insecure. It is OK to be criticised! We can learn from the dialogue and insights. Grow up New Zealand! Grow up Mr John Key!
I love New Zealand
Having criticised New Zealand I need to say that I love New Zealand. I choose to live here. I was born here and have chosen to stay here, serve in the New Zealand community and raise my family in New Zealand. I did my ministerial training in Melbourne, Australia. We lived for four years in Melbourne, enjoying the city there. There were people around the college at the time who tried to encourage me to stay in Australia. For example, one of the lecturers at the college was keen for me to continue with my studies and serve in Australia as an academic. I have had Australian Churches expressing tentative interest in me being their minister. But during college and since I have been committed to serving in New Zealand. I chose to return to New Zealand and to stay in New Zealand, and I am pleased I did. Though, like Catton, I am not happy with some of the directions taken by New Zealand politics and culture, I am still proud to be a New Zealander. (perhaps not as proud as I once was - we have in my view gone backwards - whereas once we were leaders in cultural thought, we are dragging the chain these days.)  I once knew a man who was president of the local National Party.  I have always voted for the Labour party, so I would enjoy rubbishing the actions of National Party politicians of the time. He once answered me by saying, "I am active in the National Party not because I agree with everything they do and say. I don't.  I am active because if I am involved I can work for change and improvement. I love the party so I am prepared to be involved, work for change and criticise when I have to."   I am a New Zealander. I love New Zealand ... but that is why sometimes I will challenge, stir and criticise New Zealand ways. And that is OK. 

Monday, January 26, 2015

When you give you receive...

Brocilflower  - love our vege garden this season. 
Beetroot, celery, onions, garlic, carrots, parsnip, turnips, silverbeet, french spinach, zucchini, mint... 
Peas fattening.
Lovely sweet snow peas. 
Big beautiful cabbage ... life is good.
Grumpy on Saturday
On Saturday I wrote the following on my facebook page. "A most beautiful day in Dunedin today.. but I have been mostly indoors. Doing some Night Shelter stuff for Summer School MBA students, some other Night Shelter phone organising and doing powerpoints and setting up for a Church service tomorrow morning." When I wrote that I was annoyed. It was a beautiful sunny day. Working inside preparing the service and doing Night Shelter stuff for students and others on such a lovely day really peeved me. Added to that the students wanted to meet me at the Night Shelter at 3:30 p.m. on Sunday and that is when I usually go walk/running with my friend. It would interrupt that, so I had to email her to tell her of the change of plan.  I was a tad grumpy. Why did I agree to preach and help lead a service? Why did I get roped into working with these students? Why can't people leave me alone! 
Busy Sunday
I did not sleep well Saturday night, my head was full of my sermon for Sunday morning. We were up early and went down to the little Church to set up the powerpoint, TV and sound system.  We had a hiccup with the computer that gave me moments of panic before the service.  The Parish council ran the service with my wife doing a children's talk and me doing the sermon time. I had powerpoints and a song item on the TV so sort of guided the service along. Then in the afternoon I went to the Night Shelter and spent about an hour with this group of international MBA students as they asked questions and talked about the Night Shelter and fathomed their project. My friend was too busy doing her thing to do our traditional exercise at a different time, so I drove quietly through town wondering whether to exercise alone or just go home. At an intersection I saw a guy who attends the Church I retired from. He had been a special friend we first knew through the drop-in centre we ran, and he had developed a lot in the years we had shared together.  He lives alone and I had not caught up with him in some time. I honked my horn and pulled over. He came to the door of the van. "What are you doing?" he asked, "Where are you going?" I knew that this was his way of saying I'd like to spend some time with you. "Wanna come for a ride?" I asked. "Oh yes, if that's OK?"  He hopped in and we drove about a mile, when I said, "Wanna come home for tea?" "Oh yes, if thats OK? I didn't expect that. That would be nice. Baked beans would do." So I pulled over and rang my wife to check if it was OK. So he came home. We caught up, watched TV, wandered the garden, had dinner (not baked beans) and then the three of us went for a drive in the country before delivering him back home. He is often alone, unemployed and seldom ventures far from town. He was so grateful as we dropped him off at his door. 
Buzz out of giving...
Sunday was busy... It was stressful preaching again, but I knew people had got something out of the whole service. Everything fitted the theme and it was an encouraging service. When we said the benediction together they were looking at each other with broad affirming smiles, sometimes reaching an arm around their neighbour. I received very positive feedback. I enjoyed "mouthing off" to the students at the Night Shelter. They were quality young people and wanted to do a project that would assist us on the Night Shelter Trust. They heard my political angst, and my passion for the poor and once again responded warmly. My friend Robert sat comfortably at home, relishing the friendship we offered. I went to bed very tired, but somehow I was buzzing. My day had been taken over with giving to others. The day before I had been annoyed about the interruptions. But as I lay in bed on Sunday night I felt good. It had been "real". In Church, with the students and with Robbie I had been truly "with" people in the journey of life and it was good and worthwhile living. The wise have always known that, "When you give you receive."

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

Bureaucracy Rubbish.... five examples.

"Big Norm" - Norman Kirk clever popular politician.

Freedom Camping..
We have a problem in NZ. We have people in vans like mine with no toilet facility (we carry a portable loo) camping in spots for free. Locals in various tourist areas have kicked up a fuss and the practice has been banned in lots of locations. The given reason has been the mess left behind by these freedom campers, but I suspect there is a little bit of protecting the incomes of local motor camps. Bureaucracy has stepped in and stopped freedom camping.
"Camp in our driveway..."
A lady has come up with an idea to help the whole situation. She wants to build a data base of people who would be happy to have freedom campers camp in their driveway for a small fee. A great idea. People can go online and make contact with people in areas they want to holiday in. But.... Bureaucracy has stepped in. The bureaucrats say they would have to register their drive way as a camp-ground. That would be free, but it would mean that their rates will go up 25%. And there might be inspections of the facilities available ...etc. etc. yawn... etc etc  Another great idea about to be squashed by bureaucrats.
My Mum vrs bureaucrats...
When my dad died in 1964 we were left poorer than we already were. My mother worked at a Rest Home to earn money to pay for the family home, and the food and clothing to continue to raise her five children. ... all teenagers or nearing teenagers. At night she set up her sewing machine and took in sewing to make extra money. The Labour Department heard about it. The place had to be inspected to see if it was safe. She had to have a separate room, she could not do it in the lounge. (family might prick their finger on a needle!)  Did it conformed to the regulations of a sewing factory?  There would be extra tax, different rates etc etc. I remember coming home from school when the Labour Department inspector was there. My mum was in tears saying, "Its only one machine sewing clothing to make a bit of extra cash to feed my family?" "It is a commercial operation." he said as he filled out his forms.  A couple of us boys suggested to the man it was time for him to go and we opened the door for him, guiding him down the hall....... Bureaucrats!!!
Night shelter classed as a Motel
When we were first setting up a night shelter we suggested that to stop unhealthy dependence we could charge residents a little fee, and this could be deducted out of their benefit. It would help the finances a little bit, it would be healthier all around though a minuscule part of the actual costs. I went in to talk with City Council staff. It would drastically change what part of the city we could set up in. There would be a very different more difficult standard of building regulations applied. It would change our whole status, we would be classed as a "Motel". Bureaucrats and bureaucracy gone silly. I kept reading of Churches in America taking turns to have their halls set up with temporary beds to house the homeless... bureaucrats here would have a field day with that!
Christmas dinner...
At the latest Christmas Dinner the people putting the food on the plates had to have food safety qualifications. Spare food could not be given out for the poor to take home.  (we did this for 25 years!)  The bureaucratic mind set stifles volunteerism and even the Christmas spirit.
If Norman lived today...
I am reading a biography of Norman Kirk, the fourth Labour Prime Minister of NZ (1972 - 74... He died in office) He grew up poor, left school early and did a great variety of jobs.  He mainly worked as a boiler man, but as his family grew he took other jobs to help make ends meet and save money. He got old post-accident cars, and repaired them and sold them. (I once helped a mate do this - We would not be allowed to do it today!) There is a photo of him hanging on the side of a big chimney painting it as a spare time job. (Health & Safety would have him crucified today.)  When he moved to Kiapoi near Christchurch he built his own home, designing it, making his own concrete blocks, and building everything, except he received expert help with plumbing and electrical. (He would not get past first base in today's bureaucratic Nanny-state climate.) He went on and with his energetic, creative, independent thinking work ethic he became a powerful mayor, then a politician in opposition and even though his reign as Prime Minister was cut short, he brought in some innovative and creative far reaching changes. I wonder if he would have developed that streak of personality if he had to cope with the bureaucrats of today?   Of course people would say that we need the protection of bureaucracy! Rubbish... people can learn to protect themselves. The bureaucracy kills the opportunity to advance, to be independent and make a real life for yourself and yours. In my view it has gone too far! The damage it is doing far outweighs any perceived advantages.

Sunday, January 18, 2015

I disagree with the Pope! and other stuff.

I guess I am gathering together a sound off about a number of issues.
Boko Haram 
It is an intriguing situation. 17 people are killed in Muslim terrorist attacks in France. The world is rightly appalled and world leaders gather and march arm in arm in protest. The newspapers are full of news and comment about it. In North East Nigeria there are hundreds, perhaps thousands killed (depending on who you believe) and it is a little article stuck somewhere in the middle of the Newspaper.  Somehow "It doesn't matter as much - they have been fighting each other for centuries." One firefighter said to me, "They do not value each others' lives, why should we worry about them?"  It is like the lives of Africans are of much less value than western lives. The truth is as one article  pointed out,  "Brutal raids, massacres, suicide bomb attacks and kidnappings by Boko Haram have claimed at least 13,000 lives and driven an estimated 1.5 million people from their homes, mainly in northeastern Nigeria." We need to feel for every brother or sister killed. When will we truly learn that we are ALL on this journey of life together and learn how to work together to stop such aberrations.
Indonesian Capital punishment. 
Six people, five of them foreigners were shot by firing squad this weekend in Indonesia. All of them were for drug offenses. There are others, including two Australians awaiting execution. Now I have seen enough damage by people peddling drugs to say that I have very little sympathy and empathy for drug runners. They are the scum of the earth in my book, causing untold misery to vulnerable people and families. They ought to be punished and any society has a right to show its extreme disapproval of such behaviour. But I do not condone the death penalty.  I look at the photos of these young people (40's is young to me) and think how sad that this life is cut short and has no opportunity to change and redeem itself. Indonesia (and other places that have this death penalty), your punishment ultimately cheapens the value of human life, just like the drug runners you are killing do.  As my mother used to say, "Two wrongs do not make a right!" Grow up and think more creatively about appropriate punishment. (A Kiwi was recently arrested and now awaits his consequences. I do not understand why any thinking person would risk getting involved with drugs in Indonesia? Is it greed? Sad and silly. )
Aussie Sportsmanship...
I have just watched a clip of an Australian/ India cricket match. The Indians took a legitimate run on overthrows but the Aussie players took offense and started mouthing off as they are want to do.  I see and hear the sledging that goes on in this "game".  We live in a world where there is too much violence. Violence in our homes, on the streets, in the schools and in pubs. These national cricketers are role models for young people. Whether they like it or not they are heros, on a pedestal as leaders in their community.  Their behaviour and attitudes are noticed and followed by kids, teens and adults. It is seen as "the norm". Such displays of bad temper in a non-contact sport like cricket is, in my view, an extremely bad example by people who ought to know better.  Sport, often held up as something good and beneficial in our communities, can be the very opposite, reinforcing bad attitudes and undesirable behaviour.
The Pope said...
The Pope in talking about freedom of expression, said there were limits on it. He said, "You cannot insult the faith of others. You cannot poke fun at the faith of others." In the speech I think he unwisely used an illustration about punching his friend if he insults his mother. That has led to outcries or the suggestion that he supports such violence. I am sure he in no way supports the violence and other statements make that clear. But... What is it about religious faith that means I must not insult it or ridicule it? I like Pope Francis, he has been a breath of fresh air in the Vatican, but on this I disagree. Religious people ought to be prepared to have their faith critiqued , challenged, insulted and railed against. I was talking to my friend who trains racehorses. He pointed out that some horse racing fans get so wrapped up in the sport that you would think it was the beginning and end of everything. "It is their life", he said. Now religions are like that. They can become a subculture which blocks out everything else. They can be the window through which we see the world and we can put blinkers on so that we do not see any other view point. Religions need the challenges and view points of people on the outside! They need to listen to how they are perceived. They need the corrective of objective thinkers and people opposed to them so that they can keep and gain perspective.  I think the French magazine was perhaps unwisely provocative, but they have a right, a place and indeed a duty to challenge bad religion. Bad religion needs challenged just like any other aspect of life. It ought not to be off limits and we religious people, of all people, should be big enough to handle it. Sorry Pope Francis, I disagree with you on this one.
Throwing out rubbish.
I have been sorting and throwing out rubbish. I have had heaps of old papers stored in boxes from years of religious committee meetings and activities. I had forgotten, but I was once on a "Doctrine Committee" for our denomination in NZ. (Thankfully - we did not do much! ) Over the years I have been involved in lots of religious meetings, conferences and conflabs. For some reason I had kept records and papers. I threw them out yesterday. I once heard about the middle ages when Church Bishops argued over how many angels fitted on to a pinhead. I have laughed at such behaviour. From the perspective of experience, personal change and growth, I looked back on these papers and thought, "we argued about angels on pinheads too." What seemed important was not really important. In some cases we were re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic. Others were just going around in circles, with the mistaken perspective that the Church was an end in itself, and all important. I think I felt uncomfortable back then, but more so now. I threw out real rubbish.
Next Sunday I am back on a Church platform preaching. (I refuse to go into the pulpit - they have a pulpit with a fence and little gate???) It will be an interesting exercise. 

Monday, January 12, 2015

Nightmares ... what a world?

I have been annoyed lately because I am having nightmares and often because of these, wakeful nights and loss of sleep. I have often found that there are reasons behind the nightmares I have and I examine my lifestyle for those. I dream that there are terrorists or sometimes non-descript men chasing me trying to exterminate me. I dream of being unable to runaway from chasing dogs or desperately trying to get out of a bog. Why?
Bedtime reading...
One of the books given to me at Christmas is a true story of a man walking the Amazon river. I read this every night before I turn out the lights. In this he encounters angry communities, bogs and all sorts of dangers in the jungle. It is a great story but I wonder if it is appropriate bed time reading?
Out of line lifestyle..
This week all the busyness and responsibilities of being chairman of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust seems to be starting again. In some ways I enjoy this work, but it does take me out of my comfort zone. It is not "me" in a sense. It is a bit of a CEO role and I am not cut of that cloth. On the other hand I sit in my local Church and share in services where the leadership offered is not, in my view, up to the basic standard it ought to be. I keep thinking, "THAT is where I ought to be using my abilities, that or something similar." But there are virtually no opportunities in this congregation. I feel a "calling" to be leading or creating stuff that leads people to consider the sacred or depth in life but I can see no opportunities for that? I wonder if part of my unsettledness is that I am not doing the things I am meant to be doing? But I struggled with traditional ministry expectations and traditional "church"?
The World Worries me...
The siege in Sydney, now the siege in Paris and the ongoing murders, wars and atrocities between the west and the radical Muslim world worry me. I think retaliation only increases the violence down the track. But when people believe they have God on their side and they are killing in the name of their God all rationality and reason go out the window. I cannot see an end to this situation. The response in Australia and in Paris of solidarity and the desire for unity is great. But there are sections within the world where hatred of all things muslim, and sometimes of all things "religious" is building. Hatred never solved anything either.  One ex-military man in the USA is quoted as saying “You go wherever in the world the terrorists are and you kill them, you do your best to exterminate them, and then you leave behind smoking ruins and crying widows.” He also had other very warlike angry words to say. So I am really concerned about the future for peaceful coexistence in our world. It will not worry me, I'll be out of here soon enough. Continued escalation is all I see can happen at the moment. This will make for a very troubled worldfor my children and grandchildren. I suspect it will be more destructive and more widespread than ever before in history.  I am also concerned for Western society in the situation. The west is weak on depth. While we have amazing and fast changing technology, we have no real "spiritual anchors" or deep agreed values that will help us work through the issues in any depth.  Our media and even our political systems seem to encourage superficiality - popularity is all important.  But superficiality is the last thing needed to work through the issues facing us. 
The other thing which we need to see is that "they" the radical muslims, are not the only evil guys. In the recent Paris siege, there was a lot of rhetoric about the freedom of the press, the freedom to express opinions etc. Within living memory the French government sent agents to New Zealand and bombed Greenpeace's ship "Rainbow Warrior" because they were expressing dissent about France's nuclear program! This was not a couple of cranks, but a terrorist act ordered by a government!  It was only pure chance that more were not killed by those terrorists!  To heal the growing rift, we must not see just one side as "the goodies" and the other as "the badies", but be open to view all actions and all the history objectively, with compassion seeking to understand.  Anyway, I think this situation contributes to my nightmares. 

Do you get nightmares? There was a time I never used to have bad or good dreams. I just slept. I could not understand people having nightmares! But in the last twenty odd years they are, from time to time, part of my experience.  I most often find there are triggers in my lifestyle or thinking which cause them.

Monday, January 5, 2015

Down time in Dunedin.

The incriminating evidence.. me in the red tee shirt with the pot belly. It could be that we had spent three days, - Christmas day, Boxing Day and my foster daughter's birthday eating a way too much!
We were looking at my son's partly built house in Christchurch. 
Part of our vegetable garden with a hen run in the background.

Broad beans and Japanese turnips - beautiful!
On my Saturday bike ride I turned around at the Dunedin wharf. Lots of men lazing in the sun fishing... I did not see any fish caught though.
A scene on my Sunday walk in Port Chalmers.
An idyllic setting for relaxed evening dining.
The reflection of a brilliant sunset from our front drive.
This is a strange time of year in Dunedin. People are coming back to town but it has been very quiet. The washing machine was playing up at Phoenix lodge and I knew it would have been impossible to get a repairman. Fortunately it came right with a text message from our representative, saying that a "stern talking to" repaired the problem.  In New Zealand it is like from Christmas until about a week after New Year, everyone takes a breather. Except these days there are stores trying desperately to sell stuff. There are Boxing Day sales that go on well after Boxing Day. There was a queue outside a local shop the other day, people waiting to get in because the shop was crowded. But apart from that even the traffic around town is light. People are on holiday. We all know that 2015 with all its busyness, will soon get underway, but just now we are relaxing awhile. On Sunday evening my wife and I went to a local park and had a picnic dinner with a barbecue on a little gas cooker. It was nice and relaxing. For dessert we went to a well known ice cream store and bought a cone stacked high with beautiful New Zealand ice cream. We sat on a seat across the road and savoured our cones. It was a warm long summer evening and people ambled past with each couple, family or single greeting us warmly and passing some friendly comment. That is the laid back atmosphere of Dunedin at this time of the year.  2015's busyness is looming, but just now we are pausing, enjoying the warmth of summer. 
2015?  -  I struggle to believe that it is 2015! As I grew up and went through most of my adulthood, 2015 seemed like some far off, futuristic date.  I guess it is a realisation that I must be old. I saw a photo of myself taken a day or so after Christmas and I saw a pot bellied old man. 
Creative house and garden maintenance and care. 
Since I came home from Christmas in Christchurch I have been busy doing stuff around home.  My lifestyle over the last twenty years has meant that we have just existed in our house and section. But gradually I am now tidying things up. I have had a workshop which essentially became a junk room. I have installed shelves and in the process have found family treasures, sorted rubbish and enjoyed bringing some order out of chaos. We are also harvesting stuff from our vegetable garden and increasing the crops. It feels relaxing, creative and somehow very in touch with life and nature.  Having  a holiday at home is like living for a brief time on an isolated island blocking out the world, its demands  and its needs. Next week I will get back into busyness of projects and wider responsibilities, but not now.
Goals and resolutions...
I have set so many New Year resolutions over the years that I tend to feel cynical about setting new ones. My hopes could be dashed. But here goes.

  1. I want the Night Shelter Trust to raise enough this year to purchase its buildings. That means we have to find another $300,000. I will be doing my best for this to happen.
  2. There are lots of areas of the Dunedin Night Shelter Trust's work that need to be tightened up or made more efficient. We have a great team but together we need to do our best to use each other's skills and strengths and hone our work.
  3. I am committed to getting fit. I had a chest infection in Edinburgh in August, and it has taken me months to "come right". I am now feeling more full of energy than I have for some months. As I mentioned above a photo of me showed me with a pot belly and looking old! I love being active and want to get some of my fitness back. All my physical work around our acre is assisting this and already I am feeling stronger. But beyond that I have committed to an hour of exercise a day, even if it is an intentional energetic walk. About mid 2014 on Waiheke Island I found a daily brisk walk did wonders for losing weight and increasing fitness. My Edinburgh illness mucked up that progress. 
  4. As I have been cleaning my workshop I have decided that I will do more creative handyman stuff. I enjoy building useful things, up-cycling scraps and making something useful. So in 2015 I will intentionally be spending time in my workshop.  Today I made a kitchen step for my wife out of wood from old furniture I had pulled apart. I have the bits for a garden kneeler ready to be assembled, again from an old exercise machine. I will finish that for my wife tomorrow. I have begun to gather timber to build a woodshed, to dry and keep fire wood.  I have tools, the space and will seize "me time" to do such things. 
I have now written my goals and resolutions and put them "out there" for the world to see. Perhaps that will keep me motivated and energised to fulfill them. 
Wish me well with these for 2015. Watch this space.  I wish for you security, love and fulfilment. Happy New Year to you and yours.