Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

I remember three important lessons.

Part of my mountain track- time alone is invaluable.
My daughter visited the wood shed.
On Saturday night my daughter and her husband came around home, keen to see the wood shed I had built and they had seen on facebook. We took them out and showed them my building project. They made some positive comments as they studied my handiwork. But while they were looking I was looking at my work, seeing it through their eyes. They are both very good at DIY work. They have done heaps of great stuff around their place, including building a wood shed with sliding doors! It was while they were looking at it, and later after they left, that I began to question one aspect of the design. I had the door opening into the shed. That meant that there was a big bit of unusable room in the shed. As I thought about what their perspective may be on my handy-work, I realised that they might see that as a flaw.
The next day I had to drive south from Dunedin for about two hours and while I was driving I set my mind to planning what I would have to do to have the door swing outwards. On Monday morning my wife and I grabbed some tools and worked through my plan. The door now swings outward. I can use the whole space inside for wood. It is great when a plan comes together. I was reminded of two life lessons through this experience.
First - I got to thinking, how many times in life we would benefit from looking at our actions, our priorities and our work through others' eyes? While it is sometimes important to march to our own beat,  at other times it often does help bring perspective if we ask the question, "How is this seen from another person's more objective point of view?" Often we get caught up in our own ways of doing things and need to stand outside and look in, imagining others' perspective. My daughter and son-in-law did not say anything and may not have thought of it, but just my wondering about how these two clever people would perceive my work, made me a more clever handyman.  Churches, preachers, bosses, charities all could do with looking at their work through others' eyes.
Second - As I drove for a total of four hours on Sunday I was able to plan how to make alterations. I planned the job out in detail in my mind, so Monday morning was just a matter of doing what I had planned. While driving, I had uninterrupted time to plan. Time spent thinking is important. I know one well known author/psychiatrist who got up very early every morning and spent the first two hours cogitating on the day ahead. He told others it was his "prayer time" so that he would not be interrupted.  I walk up my mountain, walk around the block, garden or sometimes just sit playing solitaire on the computer, all the time thinking and planning. I once jokingly suggested to the chairman of the Church elders that a climb up the mountain ought to be seen as a legitimate part of my working week.  I always did it in "my time" but so much of my work was sorted out and planned in those walks. Time alone thinking is invaluable.
A final goodbye.
I was the celebrant for a "burying ashes" ceremony at Papatowai, a coastal village two hours south of Dunedin on Sunday. We remembered, said our last farewells and celebrated the life of my good friend Don Gordon, Brewery historian and a delightful, intriguing unique man who died about eighteen months ago. He is always remembered with warmth and smiles and that was the case as a group of us gathered around his headstone and shared stories.

My ceremony started with this... "Often when we come to a cemetery we just see death. But in reality they are places recognising not death, but life. They are places at which we are reminded of the contributions of earlier generations of people. These headstones represent years of lively, responsible, creative living and relating.
The truth is that I live my life now in the way I do, in the type of community I do because all these people lived, loved and contributed in their community in their time. These memorials recognise their living.
We come to bury Don Gordon’s ashes today and we dedicate this place to his memory. But this place does not just signify his death but his life. It reminds us of all he shared as a person in his years of living."

Third lesson.. Many cultures value their ancestors much more than we in the west do. The truth is that none of us are "self-made." Our society, our lifestyle is the result of many generations of people journeying, discovering, inventing, creating, relating, searching, debating and loving. Part of the "amazing grace" ("grace" means "undeserved gift") in which I live, is the heritage I have received from those who have gone before. As we gathered at a cemetery on Sunday, I could not help but be thankful for those who had gone before, and especially my friend Don.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Photos, aging, reading and opinionated waffle...

Bell Bird
Rosella (Aussie thief)
My free wood shed made from others' rubbish. 
The photos show some of the local bird life getting sustenance from our garden. Bell Birds have a beautiful song and frequent the bush around here. The Tui is different shades of black and blue except for a  tuft of white on its chest. Rosellas are an import from Australia and love to steal my apples. Come to think of it, the other animals to steal my apples are possums, and they originate in Australia too! Our Red Hot Poker flowers attract them close to our kitchen.  I built my wood shed out of scraps I had hoarded around my acre. The floor, the beams and the front wall come from under the "free firewood" sign at the big hardware store in town. The two end walls come from stuff thrown out from two churches in town. The Iron on the back wall and roof come from a house I helped demolish about thirty years ago. Even most of the nails were discards from building sites. 
A month or so ago I smacked my elbow (funny bone area) against a wall. I did not think much of it expecting it to be tender for a while then heal. Weeks later I started building my shed, which involved heaps of hammering. This has caused my elbow to flare up again, and my whole arm is in pain. At the end of my last two building sessions I just could not swing my hammer any more. When I did it fell from my grasp. I had little power to swing it and my grip had gone.  Even pouring a cup of tea with my right hand has been risky and painful.  This is me, the one who is bullet proof and could swing a hammer and do hard labour for days on end with no problems? I have a firefighter who is a masseuse who is well known as having "healing hands". He can take one look at you, or even a photo of you walking, and tell you what leg injury you have.  He massaged my arm and told me it is a ligament injury and, if I kept working with it, it could take two years to heal, if it does heal at all.  Life does not always go the way you want it.
I read the biography of Norman Kirk, the labour Prime Minister of New Zealand from November 1972 until he died in office in August 1974. It has been an interesting read because I was a young adult in Australia during those years, but had seen Kirk's rise to power.
It was a sad read because I knew the ending. He came to power with great ideals, made massive changes and had a great impact in New Zealand and overseas. But politically the oil crisis hit and England got involved with the common market. The New Zealand economy then failed and Norman Kirk's health was also failing, and he died. I knew that, but, as I read the book, something inside me still hoped it would turn out OK. Real life does not always go as we want it, does it? 
One other thing struck me. The book said, "The strong foundation of Christian values inculcated in his youth, coupled with the grim experience of growing up in a poverty-stricken family before and during the 1930s Depression, built a personal philosophy based on social justice, freedom and security for all. Every person, he believed, had the inalienable right to work, to have decent housing, to enjoy good health and to have a proper education." It reminded me of another quote I had read. “Every Cab Horse in London has three things; a shelter for the night, food for its stomach, and work allotted to it by which it can earn its corn. These are the two points of the Cab Horse's Charter. When he is down he is helped up, and while he lives he has food, shelter and work. That, although a humble standard, is at present absolutely unattainable by millions—literally by millions—of our fellow-men and women in this country. Can the Cab Horse Charter be gained for human beings? I answer, yes." That is a quotation from William Booth, the man who started the Salvation Army. It is interesting that as a child and youth Norm Kirk attended the Salvation Army.  They are both right in their ideals though. 
Opinionated waffle...
I am horrified over the cost of alcohol abuse in this wee country of ours. A young man died recently in our hospital as the result of an accident that happened when he and his mates were fooling around.... after drinking too much alcohol. That sort of story line is repeated regularly. Four young guys got a total of 71 years in prison because together they murdered another young man after drinking alcohol and taking some drugs. Every weekend there is mayhem and sometimes murder and you can just about guarantee the abuse of alcohol is there somewhere. I sometimes watch the police shows on TV where a camera rides with police patrols. Nearly every case involves abuse of alcohol. I enjoy a beer, a sherry or glass of wine. I am chaplain to a brewery, but I can still say that I have never been drunk in my life. I confess that I like a drink from time to time just to help switch off. I do not know the answer to the abuse. Alcohol control I think, would not work. I think the answer lies in asking the question, "Why do we find it necessary to self-medicate so often and so badly?" Pure logic, or common sense should have us looking at the mayhem and saying to ourselves, "I really should not drink too much, it often causes trouble and is dangerous."  The facts are there! That is a true statement. But somehow we New Zealanders brush aside logic, evidence and common sense and go and get boozed, often with tragic results. I guess we think it will not happen to us, but it is a bit like Russian Roulette. Why do we need the medication? Aren't we happy? What is wrong? 
I find it incredibly sad and it churns me up. For me there are so many wasted lives and increased sadness and hurt.

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Only $128 Million out?

Our Government worked out a concession deal with Sky City Casino so that they would build a $402 Million Conference centre in Auckland. It all sounded dodgy. They were allowed more pokey machines etc. etc. But the Government argued that it was all good for the economy. Now it turns out that Sky City wants to spend $530 Million on the centre and would like the government to front up with the $128 Million shortfall. The way Prime Minister Key is talking it could well happen. Gambling in New Zealand, especially poker machine gambling is a major problem, especially for the vulnerable. (Having said that, there always seem to be court cases where people in white collar professional jobs get caught up in gambling addiction too.) It just seems wrong to me that the Government is doing deals with this sort of business, even though it may be true that an international conference centre could be handy to have.  Now Mr Key and his ministers seem to be arguing that it makes sense to pay out a further $128 million of tax payer money to bail out Sky City. How come the big miscalculation? Why the expensive change of plan? It stinks! Fat cats in power helping their fat cat buddies.

Put beside that the screeds of paperwork, audited accounts, reports and justification charities have to do to please the government just to stay on the list of Registered Charities. A $128 change of plan or miscalculation would not be tolerated!

Add to that the experience of good charities doing good and necessary work in the community as they seek to get a few thousand dollars out of the Government. At the Dunedin Night Shelter for operational funds and soon to try to raise some capital to help purchase our building - a few thousand dollars compared to $128 Million - we apply to the Internal Affairs Department. There are all sorts of hoops you have to go through to please the bureaucracy. There are hours of form filling to do and back up paperwork needed. They double check everything and you dare not make a mistake. Everything has to be justified and accounted for and then there are no guarantees.  Government run hospitals and the police freely use our services but getting government money is like pulling hens' teeth. Yet they are talking about giving $128 million to a casino!

All is not well in God's own country. I fear skullduggery in the halls of power.    

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Life is good but tiring...

Friday breakfast in Timaru, about halfway to Christchurch.  

Our bedroom van beside our "kitchen, lounge, dining room" in Christchurch.
Theodore Tobias Brown - is it two years since a rocked you to sleep on the first day of your life? 
The main street of Oxford township - busier than it was in my youth. 
A cup of tea under a tree - about halfway home.
My prized $2 tool from the secondhand shop. 
Waitangi Day...
Last Friday was "Waitangi Day" in New Zealand. It is the time when we celebrate the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi, a treaty between the "Crown" and the Maori, signed on 6th February back in 1840. We have a holiday on that day. It is still a pretty important document in terms of the relationship between Maori and the rest of us who belong in New Zealand.  I value our history and think that overall we have done reasonably well in our race relationships in New Zealand when compared with how other nations have treated indigenous peoples.  There are valid grievances, some terrible events and attitudes in our history and still today there can be racism expressed, often unconsciously. I like Waitangi Day. It was once called New Zealand day. I think it is good to value the road we have traveled to become New Zealand and the reminder of our special partnership with Maori.
Birthday Trip...
Because it was a holiday I did not have to do chaplaincy on Friday. We decided to drive toward Christchurch, 361 Kilometres away, on Thursday afternoon.  Our grandson there had his second birthday over the weekend. We stopped for the night about half way up.  We have a queen-sized mattress in the back of the van and camping equipment. On Friday morning we traveled the rest of the way to Christchurch. We enjoyed time with our son, daughter-in-law and grandson. They visited us at our campsite and we visited where they lived with her parents. It is special visiting and spending time with family, and retirement allows us to do a bit more of that.
The long way home...
On the Sunday we drove back to Dunedin, but we went a long way home. We drove out to the township of Oxford. My wife's family used to have a holiday house there ("bach" or "crib" depending on what part of New Zealand you come from.)  In our youth, before we were married and as young marrieds we had spent warm holidays there. We enjoyed a walk down memory lane as we drove around the township, though we saw many changes that had happened. We then drove down highway 72, the "Alpine Scenic route" through the centre of the South Island of New Zealand. It runs beside the foothills of the Southern Alps. It was a very hot sunny day and the countryside looked fantastic. We stopped at the township Mayfield, that boasts a big secondhand store. It is heaped with old treasures, books, clothing, tools, machinery and countless other bits and pieces. I was looking for a particular old and rare tool. I did not find it but I loved the looking. I enjoy old tools and machines. We traveled on to end up on State Highway 1, and called into another secondhand shop in the township of Hampden. It is full of tools. I was in seventh heaven and among the screwdrivers I found the little tool I was looking for. I took it to the counter and to my surprise the woman knew exactly what it was and still only charged me two dollars for it. I need it for a project at home. We carried on home, pleased with our time spent with family, valuing the natural beauty of our country and valuing our "bedroom van" which makes such trips cheaper, and somehow rebellious fun - two old people living like 1960's hippies.
Chaplaincy relationships
Today I have spent about four hours talking with people involved in St John Ambulance organisation and firefighters at several stations. I came home moved by the friendship I enjoyed. I have said it before, it is a real privilege to meet and chat with people. I love the interaction and value how they let me into the "emergency service family" and into their lives. I drove home tired but having a sense of being involved in something special. 
The "to do" list expands...
A big part of today was spent answering phone calls, and emails about Night Shelter work. I have been making sure I delegate work and have groups doing various things, but the work left over feels daunting. It seems to be expanding. Three long phone calls had me wondering when it will stop. I will admit that some of my troubles happen because I sometimes tend to procrastinate on difficult jobs.  I am officially retired, but it does not feel like it. A retired man I talked to on the phone commented that retirement for him meant that even though he was busy, it was less stressful. I am out of my comfort zone so often that my stresses are not less, just different. Church ministry I knew how to do. Many of the skills involved in chairing a Night Shelter Trust are new or not so familiar. 

New Zealand's history and ethos, family time, travel amongst beauty, friendship and work to do - life is good but tiring!

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

"It shames me deeply as a New Zealander."

I once did an interview in Church with a politician. He was a top ranked Labour politician and I knew that several of our congregation were very active in the opposing National Party. I was intrigued that after the service these people were chatting in a very friendly way with this man.  He had opened up about the life of a politician in a very human and reasoned way and you could not help but like his understanding of the job. He is in my view one of the few statesmen we have had in Parliament in recent years. (He is now retired)  The thing that struck me was the tremendous amount of work involved in being a politician. He told us the sort of hours he worked and the things he had to do. It is a very stressful vocation and there are all sorts of things you simply have to know and keep in mind to contribute usefully. Then too, you have to be good at communicating what you think is important. I am reading the biography of Norman Kirk a politician who became Prime Minister in the early seventies and died in office. He virtually killed himself by the amount of strenuous work and effort he put into being a politician. I am amazed at his insights, the breadth of his knowledge and the depth of his thought, even though the book is very frank about his shortcomings. All that to say that there is a tremendous amount of skill and effort involved in being a top line politician. I admire their effort and would not have their job for all the money in the world. 
One of our writers Eleanor Catton has got into hot water by right wing media and the Prime Minister because she had the audacity to criticise the government. Our Prime Minister had this to say on Monday morning dismissing her comments as being ignorant.

'Appearing on TVNZ's Breakfast show this morning, Mr Keys said Catton's views on politics shouldn't be taken any differently than those of any other New Zealander.
"She has no particular great insights into politics, she is a fictional writer. I have great respect for her as a fictional writer [sic]."
Mr Key conceded he had read some, but not all of the Luminaries.
"Obviously it's done phenomenally well and I'm really proud of her, but it would be no different from Richie McCaw or the Mad Butcher or anybody else having a view on politics.
"They're absolutely entitled to do that, but her views on politics are no more authoritative than anybody else's.' (New Zealand Herald article)
His comments and his earlier comments, remind me of a former National Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. (John Key often employs the same down putting, dismissive and arrogant approach as this divisive former leader.) When Robert Muldoon was Prime Minister the Churches, in a well thought out statement, raised concerns about policy issues and their impact on the poor in the country. Robert Muldoon basically told them to "stick to praying and keep out of politics." I disagree with Mr Key.
"This is not the New Zealand I want"
I would agree with Mr Key, Eleanor Catton probably does not know much about the work of a politician. As I say, it is a very skillful and difficult job which involves being aware of a whole lot of issues and often having to look into the future. But I do not think she is ignorant and can be dismissed. In Norman Kirk's biography there are a few statements which give a picture of the sort of New Zealand he wanted to create. 
"He wrote that New Zealand had to be a country which was fair to its people - 'a country that seeks the expression of its nationhood in the strength of family life, social justice and steady progress. Our objective has always been social justice for all people in a sense that everyone is able to live decently without having to face constant hardships..."  (The Mighty Totara - David Grant) 
There are other insightful quotes too. You do not have to be a politician to have that sort of vision! You do not have to know about politics to dream such a dream!  Eleanor Catton is a writer, a thinker about people, life and its meanings. She has a dream of what she would like New Zealand to be. She has a dream of the New Zealand that would make her proud to be a New Zealander and to be an international ambassador for her country in literary circles. But she knows New Zealand, as it is and in its current directions, does not fit her dream.  She feels embarrassed and cannot feel proud of New Zealand on the world stage, it is going in directions that deny the values she holds dear. She is allowed to be critical, and her words ought to be listened to. They express values well worth listening to. To be dismissed as just a "fictional writer" is shallow - and how the media, the right, Mr Key and his ilk love "shallow!" In New Zealand today, we do not need skilled and shifty politicians. We need statesmen and women who have deep values about life, justice and what is truly important. Mr Key could well do with learning from principled people!
Fiction communicates values
Mr Key's comments have written off fiction writers as being of no consequence. Some of the best communicators about issues of values, ethics and politics are fiction writers. Through their story telling they can address such issues, often placing a mirror in front of us so our underlying unspoken values are exposed. In his comments Mr Key undervalues fiction writers and writing in general and, in my view displays his lack of depth. 
Eleanor's comments...
The New Zealand Herald article writes of Eleanor Catton's response. To conclude I pass it on...
Catton responded to the accusations with a statement on her blog. In it she accused New Zealand's mainstream media of publishing "inflammatory, vicious and patronising" things about her.
In an interview in the Guardian at the weekend, she criticised "the scale and shabbiness of this jingoistic national tantrum", which she said "shames me deeply as a New Zealander".
"I believe it can be countered only with eloquence, imagination, and reasoned debate - qualities that might seem to have disappeared from our national conversation, but that persist, and will continue to persist, despite efforts to humiliate and silence those who speak out."
I, an ordinary New Zealander, retired minister, who loves this country watch and read our media and the discussions that take place and it "shames me deeply as a New Zealander." I listen to the sorts of things our leaders think are important and at the way they conduct their business and it "shames me deeply as a New Zealander."  I see the sort of impact Government decisions are having on the poor and vulnerable in our community and it "shames me deeply as a New Zealander." I really wonder about the future ethos of our community. It is becoming so lacking in depth and "Dog eat dog."