Dunedin, New Zealand, my city - my people

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Sad, bad executions... but I agree with Indonesia.

I have been sad today because eight of the Bali nine were executed in Indonesia. The death penalty is so final and it does not enable redemption and renewal. It felt like the Australian pair had "got their shit together" and were different guys than the ones who did the crime in the first place.
I disagree with Indonesia
I disagree with Indonesia inflicting the death penalty. I think we devalue life when we kill criminals, and contribute toward a society in which life is considered cheap. Often too the best justice system gets it wrong and the dead cannot be returned. I just do not agree with the death penalty.
But I agree with Indonesia.
One writer commented saying that Indonesia considers "drug runners are as bad as terrorists, murderers and rapists." While I disagree with the death penalty, I agree with that perspective. For me people who peddle, smuggle drugs, even marijuana, are "life destroyers". I was talking with a mother the other day and she told me of her adult son's mental health struggles. Then she said bitterly,"It all started when he started doing drugs." In our drop-in centre and through our last Church ministry we had contact with a number of people with mental health issues, and many began with drug taking, even marijuana. I looked at these lives and they were lives flushed down the toilet of life. Wasted lives because they got wasted in other ways.  The people who brought the drugs, who pushed the drugs and made them available are in a real sense "life-destroyers". In my view our justice system, without the death penalty, should see them alongside, and on a par with murderers, rapists and terrorists. This is without taking into account the crime and often violence the drug culture seems to foster.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Deep fulfillment and privilege.

The latest colouring for NZ St John Ambulances.
The Dunedin NZ Fire Service "Ladder"
Last week has been busy but I want to share a couple of events that moved me...

The Funeral...
I conducted the funeral for the wife of a St John Ambulance paramedic who is manager of the St John Station in a town on the outskirts of Dunedin. She had been an ambulance officer, working in the control room when I first began as a chaplain. She died at the age of 49. She had two adult children from an earlier marriage and two young ones from this last marriage - a twelve year old girl and a ten year old boy. She had lots of health issues over the years and the future was full of uncertainty, but nobody expected the stroke that eventually caused her death. I had married the couple twelve years ago and had known them about seventeen years. I conducted this large funeral, over 300 people present, many in St John Ambulance uniform. A representative of the police was there, a crew of local firefighters and, of course, Ambulance officers from far and wide. I spend a lot of time preparing every funeral and make sure they fit the family and are devoid of religious gibberish.  One of the most moving events of this funeral was when I announced an "open time" and there was absolute silence, nobody wanted to share. But then I noticed a movement and two young boys worked their way down the row of seats they were sitting in, walked to the front of this crowded room, walked to stand in front of the little boy who had lost his mother and handed over a big card that all his classmates had written in and signed! Ten year old boys! A pretty awesome gesture. Anyway I led the funeral, and had wondered how I would go because it had been fourteen months since I last took a full funeral. I was astounded by the positive comments I received afterwards. The "big boss" of the local St John Ambulance region shook my hand, "Well done padre, thank you so much!" I received hugs and sincere hand shakes and warm comments.  One woman said, "It was so good having somebody so calm leading, we felt in control." - little did she know my true state of mind.  "Thanks for personalising it." was a frequent comment.  Even at a Saturday night function at the fire station a woman paramedic, wife of a firefighter just embraced me and said, "Thanks - I was there and you were great."  I was left with the feeling that these guys were really proud of their chaplain. When we finished doing the final committal at the crematorium, I stood as the family came out and started to disperse. The bereaved husband came out and I stretched out my hand to shake his. "Nah!" he said, "You get a hug!" and I received and gave the warmest man- hug men can share as he repeated, "Thank you, thank you, thank you." (Kiwi men seldom hug off the rugby field) I do not charge for funerals, but even if I had, I would not have received as great a reward as the looks of pride, the expressions of gratitude and the warmth of response as I had that day. I did a good job. I ministered to people in a time of sadness and loss and I did it well. That feeling of fulfillment is beyond words to express.
The Retirement "do"
I attended a retirement "do" at the fire station.  Five firefighters were leaving and this was their farewell. The social hall was packed with old and new firefighters. Many retirees were there. I arrived, ordered a handle of beer at the bar and just cruised the room talking with people. The warmth of greeting from past firefighters was great. The conversations were significant and often personal. I spent brief times with each person being farewelled and each said in effect, "We'll keep in touch!" One an "evangelical atheist" I had had a lot of fun with said, "You may not think you do much around here, but I have enjoyed our conversations and you make a difference to this place." He still vowed to turn me into an atheist, but he wants to keep in touch. After the speeches and the conversations I decided to leave. I grabbed my jacket and was headed for the door and a firefighter tending the bar came around from behind the bar, chasing me up, reaching out his hand to shake mine. He is the Union secretary and he has told me he is an atheist. But he warmly shook my hand, "Thank you for coming. Thank you for being here. It is just great." There was such warmth from all these guys that as I drove home I was on a high. Again, the feeling of fulfillment and satisfaction is pretty special. You don't get much better than that. 
I am so grateful that I am allowed to travel the journey of life beside these people as their chaplain - their "FatherTed". It is a real privilege to be there. 

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

My retirement days...

I enjoyed working with my son on a project on his house he is building in Christchurch. I have worked with my other children doing DIY stuff... now he has had the dubious pleasure. We had fun!
I often get annoyed with trite sayings on facebook, but I liked this one.
My wife had headed off to the bedroom with our bedtime "Horlicks" drink. I was checking emails and had drifted off into playing solitaire on the computer, while stewing on the day's issues. "What a strange day?" I thought to myself. Here is what took place in the day of a retired parson. 

I rose, had breakfast as I was devouring the morning paper. While drinking my tea I went into the study to read emails and do some of my own, all of which were Night Shelter related. I showered, dressed and raced out the door to meet a friend for morning tea at 10 a.m. I stopped by an ATM machine to withdraw some money and then drove toward the hardware store where we meet in the cafe. My cell phone rang and I parked to answer the call. The night time supervisor from the Night Shelter wanted to ask various questions. I answered and he seemed to want to talk, so at a certain point, aware that I still had a distance to drive, I curtailed the conversation and headed for the store.
I met with my friend, an old Habitat for Humanity colleague and we chatted, sharing health stories, family news and generally sorting the world out. He has some uncertainty about his health and we talked about this. A man came in who used to do electrical work for us at Habitat for Humanity and he stopped by our table. He informed me that he would be happy to do electrical work at the Night Shelter if ever we needed it. 
I went from that meeting to another which was to meet and talk with a woman who is keen to be a member of the Night Shelter Trust. She seemed quite a high powered public servant, dropping names of politicians and powerful people. It was an hour long meeting around yet another cup of coffee, along with others from the shelter committee.
From there I called at a community agency to see if I could chat with a man concerning social housing moves in the city, then on to have lunch with paramedics and others at the Ambulance station. The wife of one of their colleagues has died and I am to take the funeral tomorrow. From there I went to visit the grieving husband and family and talk through the funeral arrangements. It is very sad. His wife died on Monday aged just 49. She leaves two children aged 12 and 10 years of age. 12 years ago I married this couple, and now we were planning her funeral. What do you say? 
After that I raced to some storage units. I met with a couple who have been living at the Night Shelter for a few weeks. They used to attend our drop-in centre. They have had drug problems and mental health problems. I married them 19 years ago. The husband and I loaded my van with a double bed and other stuff from their storage unit and we delivered it to the flat they were moving into. He now has emphysema and the prognosis is not good. They have spent quite a bit of time as homeless people over the years and seem to go from crisis to crisis. But they have a warm spot for me and chatted like long lost friends.
I drove home and tried to phone the parliamentary secretary of a member of parliament who had been trying to reach me. In the evening I attempted more work on night shelter administrative stuff, doing some brainstorming, thinking about the funeral and sending emails. 

Administration work, an old friend, a high powered woman, paramedics, a bereaved husband and his children, and a drug affected couple with mental health issues all in one day. It was a full day's "work" and more. This is typical of my "retirement." My supervisor said today, "I hate to say this, but with your commitment to mission and ministry, and your openness to people, I think your life will look like this until the day you die."

Saturday, April 18, 2015

I am being born!

I just heard a great quote. "Life is a slow birth." We are being born as we live - we grow and change and develop as a person. I like that! 


Thursday, April 16, 2015

A "Reformation" for our age.

I have often spouted words like, "I believe the Church needs a reformation as profound as the reformation of the sixteenth century."  People often think I mean changes in worship style, a rewording of liturgy or theology. While that may be good my reformation is even more profound. It can be stated in a few words;

To follow Jesus today,
the Church needs to change from
worshipping groups of people who sometimes serve,
being serving groups of people who also worship.

A complete change of central focus for two reasons:- 

(1) As followers of Jesus we are called to serve as he served and be compassionate as he was compassionate. This compassion was at the heart of all he did.

(2) As an institution seen more and more as an irrelevant antique, (certainly that is true in NZ) the Church needs to earn its credibility. 

Monday, April 13, 2015

Angry at the religious.

Fuming at a letter to the editor.

A lady I know wrote a letter to the editor commenting on a writer's thoughts on religion. It read... 
"Christians believe Jesus, the Son of God, is God, pre-existent. Furthermore, salvation is by faith in Jesus as God, with no further works required. To add to this defeats the purpose of Christ's finished work on the cross. Even many "Christians" fail to grasp this essential truth. The Lord God only accepts those who come to him by faith alone." ... and it goes on.
I am not a Christian then. This lady doesn't understand what "faith" involves. She presents the way of Christ in mysterious, irrational, getting-to-heaven-when-I-die gobbledegook! By contrast a book I have just finished says; 
"In the last analysis faith is not a way of speaking or a way of thinking, it is a way of living and can only be adequately articulated in a living praxis..... So that our search, like his search, is primarily a search for orthopraxis (true practice) rather than orthodoxy (true doctrine)..... Faith in Jesus without respect and compassion for people is a lie. To identify with Jesus is to identify with all humanity." (Jesus before Christianity - Albert Nolan) 
The "works/faith issue" is NOT where it is at! Now that makes sense and is true to Jesus! The woman's letter is a misrepresentation of Jesus! It distorts his ministry, his message and his compassion! And it makes me angry! 
Fuming at Church
I went to the local Church on Sunday. I love the people. The preacher followed the sort of 1940-50's gobbledegook like the woman's letter above, poorly presented. I sat there in a smallish congregation with the preacher looking at me regularly. I try to be supportive of my colleagues in ministry, but all I wanted to do was to scream, "Bullshit!" It was blasphemy! It is a distortion of the Jesus I seek to follow and it makes me really angry! I fumed all afternoon. Then I thought, Jesus got angry at religious leaders who distorted the way of God! Maybe I am right to get angry! But what do I do that is constructive with my anger? If I leave and look elsewhere I leave people I love, and the suburb I live in, to put up with such rubbish! If I stir, question or criticise, I appear to be a negative grumpy guy overstepping my welcome in the local congregation of a different denomination. Angry frustration is what I am feeling!
Fuming at Fox
I watched a film clip of Fox News ranting against a statement that President Obama made at a prayer breakfast. Some fundamentalist self proclaimed bishop was ranting, and he ought to be listened to "because he was an army vet!" What Mr Obama said was factual history. These people conveniently took it out of context and made it sound like he was anti-Jesus, unpatriotic and a heretic. They ranted on with a form of fanatical patriotic Christianity which is not true to Jesus whose compassion reached beyond all the religious, ethnic, and gender barriers of his time. "It is they who are heretics" ... I fumed! But shallow thinking people get sucked in. If you shout loud it must be right. 
Fuming equals ... sad.
As a chaplain I work amongst non-christian people. They have rightly discarded the sort of Christianity above. I am among them representing Jesus, but the Jesus they think I represent is the distortion they have seen in the dogmatic bigots.  I am deeply saddened.
News the other day pointed out that around half of New Zealanders now do not affiliate with any religion. We are perhaps the most secular nation. Yet the way of Jesus is presented in this distorted, disgusting way.
I also know because of my involvements that there are a lot of stuffed up lives, relationships and people. There is deep sadness and heaps of suffering. One of the women in the local Church had a local teenage grandson commit suicide last week... they are preparing the Church for the funeral.  I know that accepting the values and priorities of Jesus has made a big difference for me and brought depth, creativity and constructive purpose. I know these people could do with the same positive influence. Jesus is not gobbledegook ... his way simply makes sense, expressing ideals for life that are deep within all of us.... but religious people distort the way. 

I am deeply saddened and angry.

Friday, April 10, 2015


It must be my age but there seem to be lots of farewells lately. As you age you witness the passing of the previous generation. 
Lady Barnes - In the "births, deaths and marriages" there was the notice that Lady Barnes had died at the age of 100 years. Lady Barnes was the wife of Sir James Barnes, mayor of Dunedin when I was a teenager. He used to drive a Jaguar car and loved the horse racing scene. Her death brought back memories of earlier influential people in our city and of this couple's impact. Well lived Lady Barnes.
Lance Bardwell - There was also the notice of an acquaintance I have had a little to do with. Lance had been a police officer but was well retired. My first contact with him was an enquiry he made about our drop-in centre on behalf of a man he was assisting. My second was when he asked us at the Church if we would allow a Korean congregation to use our building. Lance was a Catholic, but had a very ecumenical and in some ways radical faith. The Korean congregation he assisted was a right wing Protestant, charismatic group, made up of mostly students, but he fathered them as if they were his children. For him the faith had to be expressed in care of others. One other contact was that he arrived at our Church on Christmas Eve one year, when we were setting up for hosting a Church full of people for our Community Christmas Day dinner. He came up to me and asked, "Would there be room for 30 more asian students?" He told how they were visiting the University and had nowhere to go to celebrate Christmas. Somehow it was hard to say "no" to Lance so I agreed, but suggested they may have to sit in the choir stalls. "Bless you." he replied. As it happened only a few turned up. When the Dalai Lama was visiting Dunedin there was a bunch of us clergy and church people lined up on the Cathedral steps waiting to meet the Dalai Lama.  I saw this elderly man, Lance, moving down the line looking at the gathered group repeating "Where is he? - Where is he?" Then he saw me, grinned all over and said, "There he is! David Brown." He followed that by, "What's this I hear about you retiring? Is it true?" I told him yes it was. "You can't retire! All these guys run Churches, but you make a difference. There is nobody like you in town. You can't retire!"  "I can still do things." I assured him. "We're here to meet the Dalai Lama, but we ought to be greeting you. I am a real fan of yours. You are a great example to us all." That was the last time I saw Lance. "Well lived Lance, you didn't do too bad yourself."
Richie Benaud died - Richie Benaud was an Australian cricketer. He captained Australia in the days when cricket was played in a relatively gentlemanly way. He went on to become a world famous TV cricket commentator. He died today at 84. I enjoyed his commentaries, he knew the game, was a great observer of people and his comments had insights. One of his famous comments was after the Australians played in a controversial way to beat New Zealand. The New Zealand team needed six runs to win from one bowl. The batsman would have to hit the ball over the boundary on the full. It was possible but still only an outside chance. The Australian bowler and captain conferred, and the bowler rolled down an underarm, ground hugging bowl which made it impossible for the batsman to hit a six. It was technically within the rules of the game, but not within the spirit of the game. Richie commented after the game. He finished his comments with, "The most disgusting thing I have ever seen on a cricket field." I used to be intrigued at how Richie talked of cricket as if the whole world depended on it. I loved his commentaries but sometimes I wanted to yell, "Its only a bloody game Richie!"  "Well lived Ritchie, you did it well and with so much dignity." 
Retirement "Do" - I just received an email inviting me to an evening celebrating the retirement of several firefighters. There are quite a number retiring this year. It is quite a change for me, these senior firefighters have welcomed me into their culture as their chaplain. For the last twenty odd years we have traveled together, and its like the passing on of a generation of firefighters. You have done well guys, served your community for years, well done!

A TV show I am enjoying watching is the show "Madam Secretary."  This week's one was very moving when the hero, a Whitehouse official, was distressed after experiencing a war zone. In one of the final scenes she is being interviewed by the media. She said something like, "Our main task in life is to leave this world a better place for our children." I like that. The people above have done their best in their way to do that.  I hope when I have to say my final farewells people can say that of me. I hope I use my talents and time well, toward leaving this place in better shape.

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Back leading a service...

Today I led an Easter service at the local Emmanuel Presbyterian Church. I have fairly liberal ideas about the "Resurrection". I see the Resurrection stories in the Gospels as containing a lot of metaphor for a deep spiritual experience that the grieving disciples had. Because of this I have been a bit stressed out about leading the Easter Sunday service. I worried about the expectations and how I could word things so that I was true to myself and yet not cause too much hassle for lovely Christian people. It was also to be a Presbyterian communion service so I had to work out the intricacies and expectations of a Presbyterian service. I put a lot of work into the service, the prayers, the power points and the sermon. I incorporated two songs which I borrowed off You Tube. This meant that we had to set up TV and sound system. We took everything down to the Church on Saturday to try things out. Packed it up and took it down again this morning.  I would have put about three days of preparation into the service. 
I had very little sleep on Saturday night, and in bed during the night I changed the opening part of the sermon completely.  As I led the service I knew people were intrigued with the technology, my style and my approach.  When I finished I was astounded at the enthusiastic appreciative response from the congregation.  They were simply glowing at the experience of coming to Church. It troubles me. I am very good at it.  I have an ability to make contemporary scholarship understandable and relate it to life.  What is my responsibility? How do I use this gift? In some ways I love the challenge, I enjoy the "art form" involved in crafting a service and the dynamics of presentation.  I feel like with all my learning of the last forty years, my ongoing reading and thinking, alongside the freedom that comes with age, I am at the peek of my abilities in worship leadership. On the other hand, I am deeply aware of the nervous energy involved, the hours of preparation, and big part of me does not want to do it. I want to escape the responsibility. I have been involved in such work for years. And where would I do it anyway? I am just an occasional fill in at the local Church, they have ensconced visiting preachers, there is no space for me.  Every now and then I wonder if I should do some serious writing but that would take incredible discipline.

I share two quotes that relate to Easter Sunday...
"He comes to us as One unknown, without a name, as of old, by a lakeside, He came to those who knew him not. He speaks to us the same words: "Follow thou me!" and sets us to the tasks he has to fulfill in our time. He commands. And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, He will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in His fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience, who he is." - Albert Schweitzer.

A hymn I love...

Lord Of The Dance
I danced in the morning when the world was young 
I danced in the moon and the stars and the sun 
I came down from heaven and I danced on the earth 
At Bethlehem I had my birth 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he 

I danced for the scribes and the Pharisees 
They wouldn't dance, they wouldn't follow me 
I danced for the fishermen James and John 
They came with me so the dance went on 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he 

I danced on the Sabbath and I cured the lame 
The holy people said it was a shame 
They ripped, they stripped, they hung me high 
Left me there on the cross to die 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he 

I danced on a Friday when the world turned black 
It's hard to dance with the devil on your back 
They buried my body, they thought I was gone 
But I am the dance, and the dance goes on 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he 

They cut me down and I leapt up high 
I am the life that will never, never die 
I'll live in you if you'll live in me 
I am the Lord of the dance, said he 

Dance, dance, wherever you may be 
I am the lord of the dance, said he 
And I lead you all, wherever you may be 
And I lead you all in the dance, said he.

What does it mean for me to be a follower of Jesus with the mixture of gifts I have?