Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Monday, March 30, 2015

New Zealand lost the cricket but won hearts.

After hitting the winning runs against South Africa, the NZ batsman grasps the bowlers hands to assist him up and congratulate him on how he played. Like immature school boys, Australian players ridicule the top scoring New Zealand batsman they have just defeated. 
New Zealand and Australia have for the last six weeks been co-hosting the World Cup of Cricket.  The New Zealand team has played outstanding cricket and up until the final had not lost a game. There have been some amazing scenes and great moments for the team. The final was between the hosts, Australia and our New Zealand team, the Black Caps in Melbourne. The Australian team is a very skilled team and they easily beat our team, though we had beaten them earlier in the tournament. There is no doubt that the best team won the World Cup.
But oddly enough, if you go by comments by the various teams participating and the visiting spectators, the most unpopular team of the tournament won the World Cup. The New Zealand team has been gracious in defeat, and have not complained, even diverting attention away from the issue when media were pushing them for a reaction. But the Australians are well known for their sledging,  gloating and aggressive comments on and off the field.  An example is that one of them walked passed a New Zealand batsman seeking to unsettle him by saying, "Get ready for a ****** broken arm!" They give batsmen who have been bowled a send off by gloating over their loss or mistake. They badger the next batsmen coming in.  I know they are skilled players, and like the New Zealand team, I would not want to say their behaviour caused the defeat or in any way use it as an excuse. This is not sour grapes. But I think such behaviour is bad, bad for the sport, their nation and the many youngsters watching. It is bad for society.  (As a side issue, it is sad that even when they are talking in interviews, they do not look like they are enjoying themselves or each other. By contrast the New Zealand team look like brothers enjoying the ride.)  

When I coached school boy cricket I would at times pull the team together and scold them for the very behaviour that the top Australian representative side practices. I would tell them off for being immature, and threaten to default the game if it continued. I once had an opposing coach come to me to tell me to reel in my team, they were whispering comments I was not hearing. Such behaviour does not belong on a sporting field.

All that to say, as I look back on the Cricket World Cup tournament, I am glad I am a New Zealander, and not an Australian. (I am always glad about that anyway) I can look at our team and be proud of their cricketing skills and of their character and the way they played the game, even though they were not the winners. 

A man who has adopted African sons from terrible fearsome backgrounds wrote an open letter to the New Zealand Cricket team... I share some well worded quotes.

"The Australian team showed they have incredible skill, and I honour them for the choices they have made and the commitment and hard work they have shown to achieve what they have. It is a wonderful thing to be a World Cup champion.
However, I don't want my sons to be like them."
"Quite honestly, if they grew up to display the character and attitudes of David Warner or Mitchell Johnson, as skillful as those men are, I would feel that I have failed as a father."
As he thanked the New Zealand team he wrote of his hopes for his sons...

"Whatever they do in life, my hope for them is that they grow up to be men of character. I hope my sons grow up to be men of integrity. I hope they become men who stop for those in need; men full of compassion; men who share what they have even at great personal expense.
I pray that they become men who live constantly in honour, respect, generosity and perhaps most of all, humility. I hope they grow up preferring others above themselves and live in such a way that brings hope to the messed up nation we live in.
And this is why I wish to say thank you."
"But as each of you played your game over the past few weeks, you played in such a way that I could point to you and, as a father struggling to bridge many gaps for my sons, say to them: "Look, whatever you do in life, live like that.
"If you find yourself winning, don't gloat over those around you who may have lost. Be free to play life hard my sons, but play fair. Play with respect and play with honour.
"Don't let the pursuit of winning rob you of the ability to truly see the heart of another person. For when you come to die, those who gather around you will be the ones whose hearts you have chosen to see."
"And so I say thank you.
Thank you for taking your global stage and as a unified team, displaying something more valuable than holding aloft a trophy."
I so agree with this man's sentiments... Well played New Zealand Cricket team.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Life in perspective...

My Auckland grandchildren - Oh for a personal jet to hop up and visit them.
Not quitting yet...
Last post I felt like quitting my community group, life there seemed tough going. This week has been easier than I thought it would be. The Desiderata says, "Do not distress yourself with dark imaginings. Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness." I had dark imaginings which were overstated. Since then I have had a couple of encouraging emails and it would also be too complicated to withdraw from the work of the committee at this stage. I have tended to back off this last week, but going by emails needing my response, the week ahead will be busy. There are projects to complete, and after that, maybe I will quit.
Old acquaintances.. 
I share with you experiences from three recent encounters. 
An old mover and shaker.... recently I was having coffee in a hardware store cafe with my wife and I noticed this limping white haired old man looking at me as he approached the counter. He passed my table and smiled saying, "Hello David, how are you?" "Oh.. hi... doing OK." I replied hesitantly. He saw my blank look and helped me out by telling me his name as we shook hands. He would be about 10 years older than I am and grew up in the same church as I did. I had known him and his family for years. All his life he has been a debonaire professional who was a bit of a mover and shaker around town, though his career suffered a very public hiccup toward the end. I asked how he was and the answer was "Oh you know, one step at a time."  Later I reflected how time had moved him from a "mover and shaker" to a white haired old man who I did not look at twice, and certainly didn't recognise. It was sad, but a reminder of what time does to us all. I have often seen people full of their own importance pontificating about life, sharing their opinions as if the world depended on them. In due course them and their opinions are long forgotten or are remembered as "quaint". We have to learn to see life in perspective. The years fly past and we will soon be gone. What is truly worth investing our life in? It was nice that this man wanted to chat, I appreciated his interest, and I hope he can enjoy a long retirement. 
An old plumbing colleague.... I was at yet another cafe in a hardware store with an old Habitat for Humanity friend. We had our coffee and with his purchases passed through the checkout.  While standing waiting an older couple came passed and I recognised the man. He was a plumber I had worked with often during my plumbing apprenticeship. I took a step forward, reached out my hand and called his name -"Bill". To my surprise he recognised me and grasped my hand smiling widely. He turned to his wife, "This is Dave, d'y'remember? We worked together." then he chuckled, "He's the minister one." (I think he thought it was funny that I became a minister.) "Were you part of that bad group?" she responded with a grin, and Bill laughed. He is Irish, and still stood as straight as he used to, still had a glint in his eye and a ready laugh.  I worked out later that he must be in his late eighties. He immediately began to recount a story about when we were vigorously "play fighting" on a worksite and I threw a guy up against a partly installed office partition. It fell, and like a set of dominoes, brought about the fall of a line of others. We never confessed to the installers. I asked Bill how he was, and he said, "Oh pretty good. It's twenty three years since I retired you know." He looked at the smoke alarm he had just purchased and laughed saying, "I guess this'll see me out, I won't have t'buy another."  I found out he knew more about me because of my regular appearances in the newspaper. It was so good to see him, I had wondered if he was still around.  Both he and his wife looked healthy. Our memories of people who helped shape us are special. He didn't know it, but his supportive friendship during my plumbing years was important.
Goodbye mate...  Later that day I went to my brewery chaplaincy. When I went into the reception area one of the guys said, "I think many are at the funeral." "What funeral?" I asked. The man told me of a retired worker who had died on the previous Sunday. I was shocked. I had seen the name in the paper, but because it was not the name I had known him by, it had not registered with me. He had retired early at 60 years of age about four years ago. I had been his chaplain for sixteen years but neither I, nor his workmates had seen him since he left. He was a single guy living with his elderly mother, but a quiet pleasant man I had enjoyed lots of conversations with.  I was sad to hear he had died, it seemed unfair. "When is the funeral?" I asked. The guys in reception did some research and told me it was in about half an hour at a funeral home a mile or two away. "I'm not visiting here today." I said, as I handed back the 'sign in' sheet, "I'm going to that funeral!"  I was not exactly dressed for a funeral, but tidied myself up as best I could and went, sitting in the back row with his workmates. We were all a bit shocked at his sudden death. We really do not know what could be around the corner do we? Value every day. At the funeral the poem "The Dash" was read. I like it, there are simple truths in it. Goodbye mate, I enjoyed knowing you and spending time with you.   

Saturday, March 21, 2015

When to quit?

I collect pallets and chop them up and store for winter firewood. 
The Good News

I am a work place chaplain to two workplaces and I do the local St John Ambulance chaplaincy on a voluntary basis. In one of the chaplaincies there are a lot of people retiring. Twenty one years ago I became their chaplain. Back then I was the average age of the workers there. Now I am retired from Church ministry and many of these workers are also retiring. It is a bit sad. I have been with these guys in all sorts of circumstances for twenty one years, it is hard saying goodbye as each one leaves. There are younger ones taking their place, and I wondered if they would accept a chaplain wandering around? In the other paid chaplaincy there have been significant changes, with the workplace becoming more a national corporate identity than a local firm. In my ambulance chaplaincy sometimes it is difficult catching up with people.  Because each place is going through transition I had wondered if it was time for me to retire from chaplaincy?  But then I spent the whole of Friday afternoon in chaplaincy "work" and came home absolutely elated. I had felt accepted, useful and I had really enjoyed my "work".  I felt incredible privilege at being allowed to be part of people's lives. I enjoyed "real" conversations about life. It felt like this was what I am called to do and that I had real skills in this work. Simply I am good at chaplaincy, good at building bridges and establishing rapport.
But .... time to go?
I am chairman of a community group, and the last six months have been challenging, frustrating and complex. I have felt stressed and have put in many hours of voluntary time doing various things. There have been frustrating things happen which have taken me out of my comfort zone, stretched my patience and had me lying awake at nights stewing. My wife gets a bit annoyed with me. I am home in the room with her, but "not present" thinking about issues and uptight. We are retired and life is meant to be easier? I had a text the other day from my son who is building a home in Christchurch. He wondered if I could go up and help him paint the house? We are planning a painting excursion, but my responsibilities with this committee prevent me from spending much time with him. Because of Church ministry my wife and family have for forty years had to play second fiddle to my work, should that be the case in my retirement? Shouldn't I be free to be present for them in retirement? This committee work prevents that. Why am I doing it?  Then at our meeting on Thursday evening we were dealing with a difficult subject. One man expressed an opinion that I had not been fulfilling my responsibilities properly. I did not argue with him, feeling that the process of the discussion would be distracted if we stopped to sort that out. He had disagreed with me on another matter earlier too. As discussion went on I became depressed. Why should I put up with this hassle? I don't have to! I choose to do it! I could just as easily choose not to do it? I slept well that night, but the next day I sent the man an email pointing out my disagreement and he replied with understanding. I respect him immensely and he is deeply committed to the cause and does heaps of work. But that meeting was the "straw that broke the camel's back".  I could quit. I have been involved in this work for over ten years.  Feeling really flat I am of the mind to quit and concentrate my efforts on my chaplaincies. I know what I am doing there. I am in control, good at it and do not have to fit in with other opinions. I could give more attention to my ambulance chaplaincy?  I enjoy making a contribution there. As I have stewed over the last day or so, I feel like it would be good for me to quit.  I will sit with the decision into the new week and see by mid week if I feel the same way and confirm it. I have had enough. It feels like it is time to lighten my load.  Is it time to quit?  Watch this space. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Bits of me....

Two paletts for firewood transported on our wee trolley.
The trolley I now enjoy.
Pickled Walnuts on cheese - lovely! 
Hours of listening pleasure in such a small box!
Employee - employer.
I recall a firefighter who was an ardent and active union member. A very articulate forceful man who stood up for the rights of employees. He left the fire service and ran a business with employees. Once I bumped into him in the street and asked how things were going. He responded, "I know I was a Union rep, but I can tell you its bloody hard on the other side of the fence - as an employer!"  Recently the workplace chaplains had a professional training day. We had people in talking about employee rights and what constitutes workplace bullying. I sat in the back row alongside a man who is also a minister. I am a retired Associated Churches of Christ minister (Christian Church of New Zealand)  and he is an active Baptist minister. We are in a similar place theologically. As the person up front talked about employee rights we often looked at each other and whispered something like, "How does that apply to a Church?" When we got to "Workplace bullying" at one point we laughed together. The "rights" and the "bullying" had in both of our experiences of ministry been contravened by Church leaders at various times. A court decision in NZ once stated that ministers were not in an employer -employee relationship with their church, because they worked for "God".  But being an employee can be tough.
It was an informative seminar and outlined the sorts of things employers cannot say, or cannot do.
As Chairman of the Night Shelter Trust I am an employer now, and I find it tough going. I am having to worry about employee/employer relationships. I am having to do some tough talking. I am having to think about what I can and cannot say and do as an employer. I have to make decisions about what is fair. I am finding that being an employer can be a tough job. Wish me luck.
Beautiful fresh vegetables.
We are enjoying fresh vegetables from our garden. I cooked tonight's meal. We had seven vegetables (six straight out of our garden) and it was delicious. There was no salt, no spices just the very original taste of vegetables. Even plain old potatoes taste great fresh. Nothing beats the taste of fresh carrots. Supermarket veges taste like pale imitations compared to these. I am so thankful for our successful vege garden this year and we will be eating from it perhaps throughout the year. I relish the taste. Even I can make a tasty meal. 
Afternoon snack
For my afternoon tea this afternoon I had a slice of bread, a slice of cheese topped off with two pickled walnuts. Over the last few weeks I have found that I enjoy pickled walnuts, but they are special because my friend Don used to pickle walnuts. One of his friends made a big batch of them for the gathering when we buried his ashes a week or two ago. I have a jar full so I toast Don with each bite.
"You are probably like me - we never asked for help."
I had coffee with a man this morning who had recently experienced and really appreciated his first experience of counselling. He said to me, "You are probably like me, right from childhood you never asked for help."  At first internally I reacted to him assuming that I am like him but on reflection I had to admit he was right. I very seldom ask for help. Apart from monthly supervision sessions I have never been to a counsellor.  I tend to bottle things up and stew on them myself. The result is that I have put up with all sorts of stresses, nightmares and many sleepless nights because of this independent streak in my personality. I guess the leopard will not change his spots much at this time of my life. I do enlist help with practical things from time to time and I am learning to delegate more. Life is a journey and change is possible.  I have been fortunate that I have my wife and one or two friends who support me or at least stand by and cope with me. 
Help with heavy loads
These days I am purposely putting a stop to my tendency to buy tools. I have enough tools now and at my age need to be cutting down on "things" in general. But my wife encouraged me to spend money at the hardware store.  I think she got sick of me saying, "Grab the other end of this." and then both of us struggling with heavy loads. She took me around hardware stores to look for a flat four wheeled trolly which we purchased, even though I was skeptical.  Now, however, I need to admit that already that investment has been worth it. I am used to grabbing heavy things and lugging them around without a worry. As I get older that seems more difficult and my recent sore arm increases that difficulty. The little trolly is a great help and already it has become something I reach for on a regular basis. I find even if I can lift something, it is so much easier with this gadget. I recommend it to others, especially for older people. 
Amazed still at the technology!
Years ago my daughter bought me an ipod. I put music on it but have not used it often. The idea was that I could use it running, but the ear pieces fell out often and somehow I liked the silence. When I walk in the bush I love to hear the "bush" - birdsong, wind etc. But lately I have been walking daily around a suburban route and I find it an amazing distraction from traffic noise. It is old technology, but I am still amazed at how this little box can give me hours of listening pleasure. I grew up with records, 45's and LP's.  Then cassette tapes came in and people could have "Walkmans". But this little gadget amazes me. I am enjoying walking to the beat of my sixties hits or country music. 

Monday, March 2, 2015

Personal, positive, pietistic, progeny, political and playing.

Dunedin from Flagstaff Hill. I climbed it on Sunday. 
Looking from Flagstaff to my usual climb, Mount Cargill.
Parents are awesome. So my Edinburgh son said on facebook.
They often win, but lately we won the rugby, rugby league, our Breakers team is winning basketball and now the cricket - for now. 
I am not sure why, it just happens, but for the last week or so I have felt depressed.  Of course you keep going doing the same old things, but you feel numb about life. My wife asked me, as wives do, "Do you love me?" My answer was, "I don't love anything at the moment, I feel just dead, going through the motions. I don't feel really passionate about anything."  I'm not looking forward to anything and life seems hollow. It just happens from time to time. I keep doing and eventually hit my straps again, but it helps me to understand those who for no apparent reason, even when life is good, just get depressed. Part of mine (I suspect) is that while I am retired, because of Night Shelter issues and responsibilities, I still feel like I am under pressure, still have a schedule and feel like I cannot enjoy free time to do stuff I looked forward to in my retirement. There is uncertainty of funding too which feels scary and there seems to be no foreseeable end to it all. There are always issues. But depression does not need a cause, it just happens for some, and I think I am emerging out of that now. 
Having said that, I was climbing my mountain the other day and it felt good. After I returned home from overseas last year, for some months I felt like I was under the weather, and my doctor did not seem to respond to my concerns. I got wheezy easily. I tired very easily. I lacked energy. But this year I feel like I am back to health. I am grateful for that.  It has made me realise that I was not just imagining my troubles. Physically from August through to early December I was below par. Now I am more like my healthy self and I am pleased. 
We have signed on to go to a series of discussions at the local Quaker meeting place. They start in a couple of weeks and are a part of the Quakers seeking new members. (We get so frustrated with the preachers at the local presbyterian church though enjoy the people.) The first study relates to "Who or what is God" which sounds interesting. I have been rereading an anthology of Albert Schweitzer writings. Essentially it is a lot of his paragraphs covering various topics from Schweitzer's writings. I notice that he almost uses the phrase "Ethical Will" as interchangeable for the word "God". I like that. God is that inner voice, spirit, force that leads me to live responsibly, have compassion and act on that compassion. I gave a talk about the Night Shelter to a group of mature people the other day. One perceptive lady asked, "Do you ever get down hearted and want to give it all up?" I was confused or searching for a response. In all honesty I had to answer "Yes - I do get downhearted about it. Keeping money coming in and raising the money to buy is hard. Sometimes some of our clients deserve to be homeless. I do get frustrated and want to give up." She came back and said, "I guess your faith helps you?" (It was a secular group so I was surprised by the question.) I answered that "It is like I have tried to get out of Church ministry for forty years, but 'something won't let me' - It is the same with the Night Shelter, I can't chuck it in - at least not yet." That I think is Schweitzer's "Ethical Will" or "God".  It is that inner voice that prompts you to respond to need. I will let you know how we get on at the Quakers.
I keep in touch with my children on facebook. I know some people look down their noses at facebook, as if only plebs and mindless people imbibe.  With family spread all over the place, I find it a great way to stay in touch. My son in Edinburgh put a photo on facebook of my wife and I when we were in Edinburgh and wrote a sentence about how I helped him with DIY stuff. Then he said, "Parents are awesome!" and had a "feeling blessed" symbol attached. I felt pleased. My other son from Auckland rang last night and talked with me. He chatted about life, work, family and future plans. You go through tough times as a person, a parent and a parson. Teenagers go through times when they do not want to talk to Dads. It is so nice that as adults they feel free to think Dad is OK after all. If you are struggling as a teenager's parent, take heart, things can change in time.
I am sad because the New Zealand Prime Minister has decided to send troops to Iraq. I am sad because it was not a decision of Parliament. It seems wrong that he makes a decision to involve us in war and does not have to debate it among the democratically elected leaders.  In this case some of his normal allies were against him. I am also sad at his reasons. "Part of belonging to the club" he said.  I hate that we are being dragged along by superpowers, we lose our important independence through which we have and can give a positive voice for good in the world. I dislike the superficial arguments being put forward and the lack of any real deep thought.  I also believe it is the West's interference over the last century or so that have contributed to the mess in the Middle East. I believe that further military involvement can only mean more mess. Is there some way the nations concerned can block the flow of ammunition, arms and provisions to ISIS? An army can't fight if it is being starved of supplies. Somebody must be selling arms to them?  Anyway I am sad that once again our troops go into war, and a war that I suspect cannot be won.... certainly not easily. 
Playing with the neighbours.
There is the Cricket World Cup being hosted by Australia and New Zealand. It is exciting, but on Saturday it was ultra exciting. Australia is the cricketing superpower and they were confident of beating the New Zealand team in a fifty over game on Saturday. The New Zealand team has been playing well, but in the prematch banter the Australian commentators and players seemed to fob off any suggestion that NZ could win. But New Zealand did win... though it ended up a very tight game. When the winning runs were hit the crowd of forty thousand went wild, not to mention thousands, perhaps millions more watching and listening.  Any time we beat our cocky, abrasive sounding neighbours makes New Zealanders ecstatic.